Introducing ArcoPedia: an Alternative Approach to Arcology Theory

I have set up a wiki that I call ArcoPedia. The idea is to consider an alternative perspective of Arcosanti in terms of how it could be contributing more effectively to current best practices in the ecological design movement as it is increasingly impacting the mainstream society.

My most recent addition to the wiki was a page on Green Roof an ecological design concept that has long intrigued me. The page/article is titled: Why Green Roofs are more than Just about Keeping Buildings Dry

This is related to the upcoming discussion on School of Thought today in terms of my thinking about the need for a comprehsive approach to rethinking existing and prevailing urban design and development practices. Actually most of the planning community has been extremely disguisted with current “best practices” that perpetuate sprawl and the commercially dominated aesthetic of urban/suburban spaces that is of course a key driver to the consumption/consumer driven economy.

Thus the idea is to consider the possibility of

  1. limits to growth of the city and the urban effect – in that a point is reached where the urban no longer can create a positive aspect of urban life called the urban effect. So then at what level might an Arcology be too big?
  2. design of cities with the Arcology model that considers diversity of density in terms of thinking about different gradations of density as the city goes from core to periphery.

Also in relation to the above is the idea of building urban spaces that balance and combine the best of urban and rural life rather than simply saying that Urban is BEST. Complementary to this is the idea of seeing the suburban as a flawed but possibly well intentioned way to do this. Also important is seeing suburbs as a way to naturally transition urban life with rural. So for example in permaculture theory we are taught to promote this idea of gradations between human habitat and pristine nature. The key consideration is to think about what is most appropriate for zonal gradation. One thing that is stressed in this school of thought is locating food as close to the human habitat as possible. Of course for permaculturalists,  food production systems are most ideally integrated with the built environment/habitat itself.

Thus the core goal is to consider how to remake the suburban so that it undergoes a process of densification and at the same time offers a menu of choices for people to consider in terms of density and lifestyles. Possibly the Linear City model that Soleri puts forward can be seen as a way to combine that densification of suburbia by offering nodes of convergence at key mass transit stops within each of the concentric rings that typically define the evolution of suburbia in metropolitian areas.


Feb Workshop Graduation

Every month besides Dec and Jan, we have 5 week workshops at Arcosanti. The workshop program provides participants with a chance to learn more about life at Arcosanti and the background for the project includes several field trips down to Cosanti and Tallesin West as well, a hike around Arcosanti and several lectures about the project and theory of Arcology that is supposed to be driving it. Then in week 2 after the Cosanti tour in Pheonix, participants select a department to work in such as construction and begin work in their dept. Finally in week five they recieve their diplomas as seen below.

This group was a bit older than some other workshops and had established themselves in positions such as Ryan Weinman who is a architect, and Chris Reighley who most recently worked as a computer programmer, Laura Dunn worked for a bank in their real estate division and Nathan Hodgson who is trained in renewable energy held a job at a solar install company.

Possibly it was for this reason that they seemed to be an outstanding group who were very reliable and quick to learn new skills and master their tasks during their time in the works.

5 of the 7 Feb workshoppers decided to stay on after the workshops in various departments.

Dreaming of Critical Mass at Arcosanti Arizona

Wed’s School of Thought was a blast. We had 42 people attending. Much of the discussion focused on the idea of Critical Mass within an Arcology and we considered the various ways in which such a definition could be defined.

In particular I suggested that we might consider the idea that there are really three kinds of effects:

  1. Rural – provides important aspects to society in terms of open space and communion with nature
  2. Urban – enables the coming together of forces in society and civilization that enable innovation and evolution to improve quality of life as well as humn experiences.
  3. Suburban – Transition zone between urban and rural.

The idea is that there is no perfectly clear right or wrong. Rather the ideal is to minimize transport to enable the most frugal and effective use of resources.

Carried Away Film Shoot wraps up today. They are giving us a sneak peak of the footage they have filmed so far tonight.

Robert a friend of mine and a workshopper in progress took the second week of the 5 week workshop. He is doing it a week at a time over a peroid of months. He mentioned that he has published a book. Its called Postpotatolater: a Spudly way of Knowledge

Filming Carried Away at Arcosanti

On Sat and today, several of us here had the chance to participate in the filming of a movie. Director, producer and writer Tom Huckabee sees the movie as an opportunity to draw attention to the way that we treat our elderly people in America.

The movie is called Carried Away and stars Gabriel Horn as Ed who creates mayhem within his already dysfunctional family by kidnapping (she was a willing accomplice actually) his grandma and taking her across the country to keep her from being forced into a nursing home. Below is more about the film from the Carried Away website:

“Carried Away” is about a young man (Gabriel Horn) seeking his fortune in California, who abducts his paternal grandmother (Juli Erickson) from a nursing home in Fort Worth, Texas. The woman suffers from stroke-related dementia and believes she’s being held in a state prison. The unlikely duo are pursued by the young man’s father (Mark Walters) and brothers (Bryan Massey and Tyler Corrie). The movie addresses the way American society often dumps its elderly and infirm in so-called “Medicare mills” and forgets about them. It also stars Morgana Shaw and Jennifer Sipes.

In my research on the cast and crew I saw that Tom has been involved in several productions with fellow Texan and noted actor Bill Paxton including a breakout production called Breaking Tiger Mountaion in 1983.

More interesting to me than actually being an extra was having a chance to see the whole experience and to see how the film-making process works. For example this film which was done with a low budget has a large staff of people. Sometimes they do multiple roles but still the whole filming process at Arco involved about 30 crew and cast members.

Thanks to Gregor for making it happen!

Below are some pictures that Chirhiro shared with me from the shoot in the Cafe on Sat….

More about the film:

03.06.09: Greenhouse/LaLoggia Presentation

At Morning Meeting today it was a bit windy and we held the meeting in the Lab Building to keep warm. Actually the temps are pretty mild for the year but the wind is so gusty that it seems much colder than it really is.

We are starting out the Colly Soleri Music Center concert season with a bang.

This weekend we have the film shoot for the indie movie Carried Away.

Then on Mar 14th Theoretical Isolation: A Post-atomic Experiment will be performed at The Center by Ira Murfin, an alum of Arcosanti. He is organizing this event which includes some performers from his Chicago based theater act. While he is here he’ll be offering a acting workshop on the Tuesday before the performance.

In the Afternoon, the construction team had a chance to go over some of the plans and ideas revolving around LaLoggia and accompanying Arcosanti Greenhouse complex and discuss these with the Feb Workshop.

The idea is to develop an integrated greenhouse farming system that both produces food and also energy for the buildings up above (The greenhouse is part of the Energy Apron).

During the afternoon I also had the chance to tell the story of how I met my friend and colleague Joy Tang after leaving Arcosanti in 03 and going to the Planetwork Conference at the Presidio in SF. Since working together in oneVillage we have seen our work as the evolution of that being done in various ecovillages and similar socially and ecologically conscious projects around the world.  A key aspect of our work is identifying the role of Information Technologies in providing assistance to communities to become more sustainable. Also related to that is the development of strong cultural identities in these communities. So one aspect of our work has been to promote cultural exchanges between societies.

During the presentation I talked about how Joy has been in Taiwan working to raise awareness of the value of African indigenous culture in the context of Taiwan’s own indigenous tribes. This has materialized in the group Unity Drum which is a fusion of African and Taiwanese indigenous music and dancing. Most recently the group performed for the well known Japanese fashion designer  Issey Miyake at his Fashion Show in Taipie on Mar 5.

Net-zero and Learning the ABCDs of Sustainability

Arcosanti A Great Meeting Space for Net-Zero Minds? – SF Bay Area sustainability innovator Laurie Schoeman unintentionally reminded me about how much I have fallen out of touch with latest developments of the ecological design/green movement by suggesting that Arcosanti would be a nice place for the meeting of “net-zero minds”.

A  search on Net-zero exposed it as a term some use in ecological design to refer to serious approaches to reducing emissions and overall ecological impact. There was a nice article in the Vancouver Business Journal about Net-Zero titled “The Power to Net-Zero“.

Over the years there have been many of these (meetings of net-zero minds at Arco) including:

Three Paradox Conferences (97,99,01) which I talked about in a previous post just a few weeks ago.

The launch of Ecosa Institute’s 4 month seminar on Ecological Design in 2000 which was promoted as a total immersion approach to ecological design in 2000. Because there was deemed some conflict with the existing workshop here at Arcosanti it was not continued.

Both considered a more comprehensive approach to planning and design that involves many different considerations.

The Role of Asset Based Community Development in Building Arcology Themed Habitats/Developments – Today Skype UK Social Entreprenuer William Wardlaw Rogers and I talked about the potential role of a project like Arcosanti in terms of developing more outreach with other orgs esp locally as a way to demonstrate a process towards less top down and more grass roots local actions.

The term used in development and NGO planning is Assets Based Community Development. ABCD is a process for constant engagement with all stakeholders. Some might see it as a form of “closet Marxism” in that it is stressing the need to hold those with the power accountable to the people involved in the NGO at all levels in the process. However these approaches are not about mandating or forcing but rather about holding people accountable to each other within networks and possibly eventually in the larger society as well.

One of the challenges when considering Arcosanti and its impact on the world is that we currently have no way to measure its impact both in terms of sustainable measures of progress as well as community engagement both at the local and global/networking levels.

Because if you want to create an real alternative to existing capitalist models you have to consider the Human Scale and in that vein develop a process for bringing people together in a cohesive way to make decisions.

So William suggested some who is involved at the state level in Tuscon area in such efforts. Hildy Gottlieb is working on the Community driven institute and her approach he says is Asset driven community development. He is looking at something in the UK to compliment this. This includes the development of what William terms “information products to facilitate community development – these are asset focused and start by analysis of what is within the community rather than seeking for external solutions.”

The G20 (Group of 20 leading industrialized nations) is being hosted here at the end of March. As a counterpoint to this extremely elite and top down event is an event called We20 – a real world set of round tables enriched by technology links.


The We20 team are sending out packs to guide national discussions of 20 people (to mimic the G20) on what the issues of the day are.

They will be fed back to a central point and then fed to some interface of the G20 as representative of the We20 community views (on what issues are vital – I’m not certain if they more to a solutions stage).

So then the idea is why NGOs like the Cosanti Foundation (which runs Arcosanti) need to consider this kind of thing? Why?

William responds:

We20 is the beggining of a concept being batted around on the back of digital infrastructure progressing – Digital government. This seems to be the start of a national attempt to get decision making at a local level being centralised and fed to those with the hand on the resource tap.

I’m interested in the process – how inclusive/exclusive it is… and…if it can be emulated for development agencies/community development aggregates in requesting resources.

My thought is that lots of money is assigned for development/regeneration of local areas and the implementation is based upon top down consultation. This digital method of illiciting what is valued locally and what the needs are may be an alternative.

An analog gathering (non-ICT based face to face round tables) enriched by a set of tech channels. The fact that it is digitally enriched means a variety of social media tools can converge to capture the results – and they can be updated relative to the regularity of the discussions.

This I believe forms some way for others to engage in the legacy of these small 20 person events and also any larger meetings that will no doubt occur. It also allows remote engagement, but it does not entirely rely upon technology for smaller meetings to occur – information to be exchanged – and decisions to be made. There is obvious fallibility as to whether resources will return relative to the requests of the round tables but at the very least there will be public record of the requests (occuring regularly) – so that top down consultancy can be slowly phased away as this process becomes more reliable.

These We20 groups are small round tables…In effect it is a tribal system enriched by technology. I believe that these tribal decisions (round tables) can be seen as a way to make community decisions around development.

And then the discussion feeds into how does something like Arcosanti establish its values and make relevant choices around the resources it has access to both interdependently and independently and what role does technology play in that.

In closing he came up with some heading to summarize the approach:

  1. Be interesting to understand: The decision making process around resource use –
  2. How an inclusive vision is established –
  3. How the existing culture facilitates/inhibits that –
  4. How decisions develop the culture and move the community towards the vision…

Another Day in the Life of a Arconaut

Well you know your in trouble when comic book like futuristic B movies like Robocop seem prophetic about the future.  In an article (Detroit’s outlook falls along with home prices) on Chicago Tribune online I  see the reality that Detroit has not hit bottom yet:

It may be tough to get financing for a new car these days, but in Detroit you can buy a house with a credit card. The median price of a home sold in Detroit in December was $7,500, according to Realcomp, a listing service.

Yes that right the average price of a house in Detroit is not 75,000 would be bad enough but a paltry $7500. Some are predicting that Detroit will be the first city to go bankrupt in the US. I still remember from my childhood days when NYC faced the fiscal crisis of the 70s when urban blight rapidly expanded throughout the city and trash did not get collected in some areas for quite some time. However it seems that America’s inner core urban areas because of neglect and avoidance of the problem of our declining cities, faces an even more daunting situation now with the possibility of America not being in a deep recession but a depression that might even rival what was experienced in the 30s.

The idea of course is to consider a grand plan for investment in American cities that is considering a comprehensive approach to the redevelopment of the inner core of America. This is not necessary a case for considering Arcology in a strict interpretation but rather to loosely consider Arcology and other visionary ideas for rebuilding American society. Paolo interestingly offers an alternative to the old revolution vs reform debate model by saying that the answer is reformulation.

Finally I set up the ArcoPedia on Netcipia with the goal of providing a translation of Arcology that could be eventually published in a book. As I considered what to what in the section of the wiki titled HyperBuilding (its a work in progress), I discovered the MEGAblog which has an interested excerpt about the Paolo Most Vertical and Phallically inclined Megastructure.

Of course when I did a search on HyperBuilding I found something that Libby/Doctress Nuetopia write about it (The Love Project: The Two-As-One-World Philosophy).

On Monday, the construction team worked on the Handicapped Access Ramp and it was quite a experience as many of us poured a slurry coat of cement, water and sand over the hard pack concrete we poured last week as a retaining wall for the concrete sidewalk. After the slurry coat was applied, we sprinkled silt to give it a nice earthly texture and look.