In order to understand Arcosanti, it’s best to describe what it isn’t, rather than what it is.
It’s not a commune. But it is a community.
It’s not urban. But it is a city.
It’s not an artist retreat. But many artists live there.
It’s not economically focused. But it does vend products.
35 Years of Optimism
I’ve been going to Arcosanti for over 35 years. My first several visits were as field trips in high school while attending my alma mater, its closest neighbor, The Orme School. Back in the 80s, as we toured this architectural lab of the future, the guides used terms like “we will”, “vision”, and “the future.”
They still do.
Paulo Soleri, the mastermind behind this city that blends with its environment in a concept called, “Arcology,” thought his vision of how urban planners, architects and humans should build their cities to sustain life would be fulfilled, perhaps, in his lifetime. Whether or not Arcosanti will play out Soleri’s vision, who died a few years ago, the local residents keep existing, building, and living in a city in the foothills of Arizona, in the middle of nowhere.
Simple, yet Advanced
I stayed two nights at Arcosanti in their visitor dorms. A small, simple room with two twins, a toilet, a shower, and a sink, the views into the mesas and high desert re-kilned my soul. The sunrise views of florescent pink and the nighttime views of milky ways would enrapture anyone. Embracing Soleri’s vision is easy if the outcome is clarity of mind.
Stay and Tour
In order to get a room at Arcosanti, you’ll need to find it at Airbnb by searching on the location of “Mayer.” Or, just call them directly. Although Airbnb said they were sold out, my phone call turned up a room for $50 a night for 2, including breakfast. They also have a “Star Room” which has a windowed ceiling from which to gaze from your bedroom for only $100 a night. But whether you get the Star Room or one of the simple dorm rooms, the stay is enchanting.
Tours go every hour on the hour from 10-4, but not at noon. Catch a delicious vegetarian-focused lunch from 12-1:30 in the cafe. Or, if you would rather go for a hike while awaiting the tour, by all means. Around the south side of the cafe (ask a local) is a visitor’s trail. The path goes down into the canyon and up the side of a mesa to a cool awning to catch some shade. It then continues to the top of a mesa, offering incredible high desert views and panoramic scenes of Arcosanti. I recommend doing this hike before the tour, as it will give perspective during the tour.
Bells, Bells, Bells
Whether or not you do the hike, most definitely do the free tour. A $10 donation is suggested and well worth it. The tour is not long in length, but can be long in time. Depending on your guide and the length of his or her residence at Arcosanti, you could be in for a real history lesson. But regardless of your guide, you’ll earn how the clay and metal wind bells are made, how the economy at Arcosanti succeeds, and the secrets to becoming a resident should you decide a longer stay calls you. You’ll also learn how the giant arch asps were made, why beams stick out for future expansion, and who is coming in concert.
Experiencing Arcosanti leaves you wondering exactly what you just witnessed. All I know is that for almost 35 years, I find myself drawn to it. I need to see what changes have happened and what plans have come to fruition. It’s an odd place. But endearing. When you go, plan at least 3 hours. When you finish, be sure to buy a bell.