One of the volunteer coordinators I got to know had lived at Arcosanti herself and while she said the experience was nice (there's a stipend) she mentioned there were, and still are, serious management problems with the non-profit around it. I don't recall the specifics well enough to recount here but the outcome meant the place kind of stagnated and continues to. The visionaries who were there when it started are still there but lost their vision and are resistant to changing how things are done. An urban laboratory it is no more but has become a weird place to have lunch off I-17.
There are so many possible alternatives to sprawl, but the culture of bureaucracy is designed to prevent deviation from creating suburban blight. A set of jurisdictions that supported (or didn't get in the way of) experimental development would be really useful.
I’m not into architecture but I suspect that architecture firms also specializes on dealing with bureaucracy, which heightens the entry barrier for the would-be builders/architects.
That said, I would agree that there could be a case of over regulation that would lead to dullness.
How it works in practice is a different beast, of course... if you have some extra time to kill, could you describe why it turned a dystopia?
I always thought it was some sort of Frank Lloyd Wright reference, because I didn't know anything else, but this fits the reference better.
I visited Arcosanti in 2013. Unfortunately it's an unfinished, incomplete project - Soleri's goal was to reach a population of 5,000 people, a number he thought it would make the community completely self-sustainable. I think it reached ~100-150 at its peak.
It is entirely possible that these traits of Soleri are at the root of the stagnation of Arcosanti
This was a huge problem. If there's any one thing which defines "what a city is", it's that it arises from a multiplicity of visions, not from a singular ideal. And Arcosanti needed multiple visions, because Soleri's vision was certainly incomplete. His understanding of economics, for example, was not just naive, but nonexistent.
Source: I lived at Arcosanti for 5 years in the mid 90s, and knew Paolo well.
Edit: but perhaps you're right, and there's some root psychological defect which manifests as both egotism and sexual abuse.
However much i like the visuals of solieris vision, concrete, hippie and brutalist architecture in general, i find the idea of life a city that cannot grow but inwards pretty grim.
Not enough, I'd guess, but you could afford basic water and food if you can sell something else at a high enough price.
Getting to self sustainability always suffers from bootstrap problems, and closed loop living systems of this sort, even at 5,000 people, would suffer from lack of domain expertise or specialized resources to be truly self sustainable. At least unless they either target a low technological level of life or pick the exact 5,000 people needed to keep things going.
That's not meant to be a criticism of this project. If anything the project has strong value in helping to understand roadblocks to small self-sustaining communities, while also contributing to the zeitgeist of fascinating, quirky niche communities that enhance our culture in valuable ways.
So much agree with you.
Many are just individuals in alternative living situations or creative housing, but some are communities or -in-the-making:
Earthship community in Taos New Mexico: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVp5koAOu9M
Back-to-the-traditional-village in Portugal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgfIxUw-wEU
Others in this thread have said that there are leadership issues currently, leading to some kind of stagnation or decline. You said in another comment that Paolo was controlling in terms of the vision, and it needed multiple visions to succeed.
1) Can you expand on that? i.e., what would it take for Arcosanti to have succeeded? Just Paolo letting people run with it?
2) What, if anything, would it take to "revive" Arcosanti today? Money? Visionaries? Kicking people out?
3) Why did you live there? Why did you leave? Any interesting stories?
To give a very brief overview of the secret history of Arcosanti: during the 1960s and 1970s, Paolo's radical philosophy took hold with the counter-cultural zeitgeist, leading to a huge influx of energy. At any given time, there might be several hundred people camping in the desert, volunteering for construction. A series of massive music festivals brought in a lot of new blood. But this energy was difficult to manage, and in truth, Soleri himself was not a counter-cultural character. In many respects he was a deeply conservative raised-by-nuns old-world Italian. Giant rock festivals just didn't suit his vibe, and the whole thing felt like it was spinning out of control. In 1978, one of the festivals created a multi-million-dollar liability when a field that had been used for overflow parking caught fire, and hundreds of cars burned.
This is all long before my time, but my understanding is that in the late 70s -- I think it was 1979 -- there was a kind of purge, afterwards remembered as the "Thanksgiving day massacre", wherein an inner circle of managers seized control and informed most of the volunteers that their services would no longer be needed. That made things more manageable, but it was the first of two major steps towards stagnation. The second was in 1983, when Paolo's wife Colly died. From what everyone has told me, she was the real power behind the throne; to the extent that there was any organizational competency at the top of the hierarchy, it came from Colly, not Paolo. When she died, all construction came to a halt, and the population declined to as low as 30 people. I believe 1990 was probably the low point.
Since then, Arcosanti has gone through successive waves of renewal and stagnation, roughly counter-cyclical to the outside economy. The population has oscillated between about 50 and 100 people. When I arrived in the summer of '92, a boom was starting. A recession at that time was pushing people to look for alternatives to capitalism and consumerism and such, and enough of those ended up at Arcosanti to bring it back to life. These people were quite intrinsically motivated; they weren't disciples of Soleri. But few people stayed long; the horizons were just too limited. Arcosanti has never evolved beyond being a company town; you're free to pursue your own initiatives in your spare time, but if you want to do your own thing full-time, you have to leave. So most people with a scrap of ambition, did. That's certainly why I did.
> 1) Can you expand on that? i.e., what would it take for Arcosanti to have succeeded? Just Paolo letting people run with it?
Kind of, yes. Although a more viable philosophy at the core of it would have helped. Paolo had some real insights into the nature of consciousness-emergence at urban scales being driven by complex interactions, and how the design of the physical environment could facilitate that. But he totally failed to realise that the economic environment also needed to be complex; he had no understanding of economics at all. Furthermore, he conceived of cities the way that architects conceive of buildings: as a object to be constructed. He needed to think in terms of processes rather than objects. A city's form is the emergent result of a system of rules, so if you want to change the form, you must change the rules -- not simply stipulate an alternative form, and ignore the rules entirely.
"Letting people run with it" might have sorted a lot of these issues out organically, but it could have been better conceived in the first place.
Ultimately, though, the problem was that Arcosanti was constrained to being a company town, unable to develop the necessary socio-economic complexity to become anything more. The resistance to being more than that came from two places: Paolo and his handful of upper managers. Paolo's reason, I believe, was that he had become comfortable being a sort of Jeremiah character: a prophet whom no one would listen too. He enjoyed saying "I told you so" as the world started to discover the appeal of things he'd been talking about decades earlier. But it's easy to have this attitude when your ideas haven't truly been tested. If Arcosanti had been allowed to develop to critical mass and beyond, then this would be a risk to the sort of ideological purity he enjoyed wallowing in, however lonely.
On the other hand, his core group of upper managers weren't at all ideological, but simply had comfortable lives which they didn't particularly want to see disrupted. Arcosanti growing to its full potential would have knocked them out of a lifestyle which they'd enjoyed since the early 1980s. So they were resistant to change.
As I understand it, however, there's been something of a coup, and those upper managers have just recently -- as of a few months ago -- been kicked out. I'm a bit sad about this, because personally I got along with them well, and Arcosanti's unlikely persistence over the decades is, in large part, due to them. On the flipside, however, Arcosanti's failure to develop into more than it is, is also due to them. It'll be interesting to see what happens now.
> 2) What, if anything, would it take to "revive" Arcosanti today? Money? Visionaries? Kicking people out?
The latter has evidently just happened. The first is definitely required. Not sure about the second; visionaries can be a three-edged blade.
If the current revolution there results in a community wherein people can pursue run their own businesses, live their own lives, and pursue their own agenda -- and if this is coupled to an economic model which facilitates the development of additional infrastructure, that is coherent with the overall masterplan -- then this is as much as I could hope for.
> 3) Why did you live there? Why did you leave? Any interesting stories?
I moved there when I was 16, because I was enamored with Arcology theory and wanted to learn everything I could about it. I left because it was time to go get an architecture degree and start my own career and life, which I knew would be too confined there.
As for interesting stories: yes, loads, but that's for another time. :-)
Sure, you have things like that with buildings now. But they're not closed systems: You have problems like the above, you ramp up resources dedicated to the problem, bring in outside help to remediate, etc.
I think the higher the desired quality of life, the larger a closed system would need to be. Think a few hundred years ago: a small village could be self sufficient. The average town in Western society cannot be. Even a farm town, with it's reliance on heavy machinery and agricultural industrial complex, isn't self sufficient.
A good idea many years too early.
I like the idea of low-energy and environmental impact living at places like Arcosanti but my wife said no way!
If you search for his work, he did some awesome stuff.
It would be pretty neat to see a single enormous building with self-contained housing, commerce and industry for 20k-50k people. Not to mention the optional space launch capability. The design population of this is what, only 5k people? And it's a bunch of buildings? And it also hasn't been able to move out of the development phase for 50 years? Laaame.
I will never forget the surreal experience of seeing skrillex do a back to back set with fourtet (those genres still don’t add up). The amphitheater is actually pretty great.
The people are great and a lot of people love it for what it actually is, and not what developers try to turn it into. It's a difficult battle to preserve its character though!
What are all the engineered (or different from what an ordinary city usually is in some other conceptual way) cities anyway?
I have thought that underground structures could have less environmental impact. Leave the surface for animals and plants, and live underground.
Heat increases as you approach the center of the earth, so you get free heating. Seismically it may suck, though.
Or, live inside mounds, like the Cahokia.