Experimental Greenhouse Collapses in High Winds at Arcosanti

Sometimes we Gain Wisdom by Learning “How NOT to do Something”

So this was the month in which the ”experimental greenhouse“ (I name it this for lack of a better or more formal name of the project) was supposed to be completed. After two years of looking at a uncompleted hull of a project, many here were expecting and anticipating closure…But not so fast…As we are to see in the story described in the post below.

The 2nd Annual Russell Ferguson KCAI Field Trip
The Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) students that came 2 years ago – their efforts need to be honored – as do the efforts of the 18 wonderful, creative, visionary and beautiful, people/students coming here in this latest KCAI field trip organized by KCAI Associate Professor and Arco-alum Russell Ferguson.

Building the Structure and Finishing the Work of the 2009 KCAI Group
The students spent several days working to tighten the PVC pipe frame. The frame was originally constructed out of new PVC pipe, which deteriorated rapidly in the hot Arizona sun over the last two years. They also removed all the rocks and stripped the land of any brush that might be an impediment to the firm attaching of the structure to the ground. A trail was made of rock by the rock wall and trail master Mr Ferguson, from the Arcosanti Low Road to the experimental structure.

Once the “pad” for the structure was secured and the structure itself hemmed up to compensate for the warpage of the PVC pipe after sitting in the sun so long, it was placed onto the cleared area/pad and then secured using rebar and metal bars hammered into the rocky ground that were connected to the structure using rope.

Finally, the plastic membrane was added and secure to the membrane and the instrument housings were added to the inside and outside of the structure.

A Sense of Accomplishment and then…
I do feel the students had a real sense of accomplishment. For a lot of us it was reassuring to see the PVC skeleton finally covered and looking completed. However that sense seems to have a bit premature, looking back now to the beginning of this week.

Sometimes things are not permanent and do not last, but what is important is that in the process of creating, WE DO LEARN. Just less than a week after the students left, a fierce wind came up and put the project to a test.

Some of us in the community had concerns about whether this structure would hold up to the high winds we sometimes get in the area. Unfortunately, those concerns were proven correct as the high winds mercilessly and quickly laid the structure to waste, breaking several key hoops and leaving only the middle section partially intact and standing. Now we are left with the question how and when to clean up the mess?

Lessons Learned
While the total budget was not huge for this project, probably around 300 dollars or less, how we can learn from the process to prevent this kind of outcome from happening again, and again and again….? I think this kind of self-critical examination is vital, because we have very limited funding and we can’t afford spend the little money that we have unwisely.

What can be identified as obvious issues is first the allowing of the PVC pipe to be used in the first place. We know that PVC is vulnerable to weakening in the hot sun and we also know that the structure showed signs of severe warping that had to be corrected by using ropes to secure the ends of the hoops together on the ground. There is a belief that painting PVC can help it resist the effects of the sun but I don’t think the PVC was painted to protect it. And while painting may help prevent damage to the PVC from the sum, these materials are not designed for solar exposure. The stop-gap strategy tying the structure together with the rope did not address the core problem – the general tendency of PVC to weaken under high solar heat/radiation conditions.

We also can not be sure whether the structure was properly anchored. However, it seems the problem was that the structural stresses of the wind on the plastic overwhelmed the ability of the PVC to hold the hold and the pipe completely broke in two in several places, leaving the structure in what appears to be in failure state and a resulting significant loss of time and resources.

Salvaging the Project Materials and Effort
In terms of analyzing the project in terms of materials and time we can infer the following:

  1. The broken and weakened pipe could possibly and hopefully be used for another project.
  2. In theory, the project could be rebuilt on the pad that was excavated, but the fact that the wind took this structure down so quickly would make me very skeptical of any further efforts without significant and well thought out design changes.
  3. The students gained a experience in construction, path building and the clearing of the land.
  4. The membrane hopefully suffered minimal damage and can be reused.

Conclusion and Possible Remedies
Forget about the potentially bad PR that we might risk when people walk or drive by such unfinished and collapsed projects, the real lesson here revolves around the need for better accountability. Who can expect those who have a passion for the project and who want to see it move forward in a way that is consistent with its founding, to really make investments in moving the project solidly and decisively forward, until there is a trusted and proven accountability structure in place. Nothing can proceed here in an effective way here, until we develop a better way to build trust, collaboration and accountability amongst ourselves.

The challenge thus is how to improve the accountability structure at Arcosanti so that no matter who you are and how long you’ve been involved with Arcosanti you are still accountable to the project and its
stakeholders in terms of what you do. The main stakeholders are the 7000 or so people who participated in the building of Arcosanti as work-shoppers and in many cases as residents. These are the people we should polling and asking about the future of Arcosanti. They are ones we are ultimately accountable to when we do work at Arcosanti, especially work that involves scarce Cosanti Foundation resources – as they put their blood and sweat into this project.

The main lesson that can be drawn from this project demonstrates the need to be accountable not only to each other as part of a community of people called Arcosanti, the visitors who come to eat, see an event or take a tour and also the alum who gave a part of their life to make Arcosanti what it is today.


An Alternative View: Gaia – The Planetary Consciousness of the Earth

There was a prophetic writing by Dr Norman Myers that I got from a relative when I was studying alternative ideas in College: The Gaian Atlas of Future Worlds.

One of the key elements of it was that we are learning from nature and the capstone to that was that nature at the highest level was bound together as Gaia: the planetary consciousness of the earth. Conscious in that it was the sum of all the energy of the species and inanimate matter that made up the planet.

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Community, Spirit and the Noosephere at Arcosanti

One of the interesting things here at Arcosanti is the continued interest in what it represents. Even though it is not clear to some what all the hoopla is about. My own view is that if we live in the past too much we run the risk of being nostalgic. For an organization that claims to be very concerned with the future of humanity that can be problematic.

Also the idea is why do people stay here? Is it for the views? The social mix of people who come here from all over the world? To build an Arcology as a solution to the problems facing humanity? To document and promote Paolo Soleri’s past glories? Is it for the architecture? Is it because many who stay here fear that they can’t (or possibly a more charitable views is that they don’t want to) survive out there in the real world?

We are a diverse mix of people and so there are many reasons why we are here.

Yet I think the challenge is not to be overcome by the pain of expectation and of what should be.

It has to do with the fact that it is sometimes not clear why Arcosanti is so special to people because we live it everyday and many times struggle with the idea of living amongst a group of people for such a long time without really acknowledging its a community.

Consider that for many years the prevailing “memetic jinjo” coming out of the mouths of Cosanti Foundation operatives was that “Arcosanti is not a community its a construction site.” It was jarring to me every time I heard that I had this vicerial reaction to that kind of thinking. For me it was a denial of the idea that to live well for any period of time among a group of people it cannot be anything other than a community and be graciously acknowledged as such.

Now we seem to have evolved past the need to remind people that the people living and devoting their lives to Arcosanti are not really a community of people. However, there is still lacking a real understanding of the unique conditions here and how to facilitate something meaningful at Arcosanti that improves the quality of life here.

I often say to people that the reason architecture inspires is not so much about the architect itself but about the shared memory of an experience in viewing inspirational architecture. Pierre Teilard de Chardin was a major early influence on Soleri. Chardin expressed some  metaphysical views that were very similar to Carl Jung in relation to the idea that we do have an imprint on our world by developing rings of shared conscious experiences. It is through these experiences that we have intuitions and make what are called telepathic links with one another.

The challenge is of course that we do not really acknowledge this power flow through our lives. The idea is that there are cross-cutting influences in our lives and the power of the consumer culture and its ideological drivers are still great even here at Arcosanti.

Despite this or more precisely because of countervailing influences the Arcosanti metaphysical or metaphysics is denied. The idea of magic in our lives is denied and so the routine takes over to the point where it becomes stifling and even dismal. To acknowledge this reality is problematic because in society we are supposed to say everything is fine or at least OK (which of course is short for okey dokey).

So the problem with keeping an open mind in relation to community development is the premise that you can still have a real community while denying the idea of the role of spirit in creating and sustaining community. I mean something similar to what Jung and Chardin were talking about…That we though our spiritual essence are somehow sharing something important with each other as well as the planet and the universe on a more holistic and unconscious level. To deny this is to deny the very elemental elements of life and at a fundamental level to pretend a very basic life building block is not only unimportant but nonsensical.

So for me those who deny the spiritual essence of all things and our interrelationship with them is denying the very life force that sustains us. It is that we deny this life force that we become depressed, we are cut off from the link to the universe and to our fellow kindred spirits.

The result of the above is hardly surprising. When we are not holistic beings acknowledging on some level the completeness of what we are and what we are a part of in terms of the larger whole, productivity and effectiveness in our lives becomes distant like a mythological vision or dream. We can only wish for it, like we as children wish for Santa Claus to give us presents.

The reality is that without the spirit of community in our lives we descent into a darker world which is driven by shame, denial and pretending. We lie to ourselves and we lie to each other because we often don’t want to face the shame of what we are, what we have become. So we turn to drugs and addictive patterns of behavior to keep us complacent in the dismal and uninspiring realities of our where we are in the moments that we seek to get away from. But each moment is as dismal as the next and so much of our time is spent getting away from the memory of the now and the past and focusing on some unrealistic future vision.


“There are other things I want to Accomplish”

Paolo: Going on to do “other things”?

Its been a few months but I’m still musing over the big change here at Arcosanti.

In the Cosanti Foundation Soleri retirement Press Release at Arcosanti’s official website blog (Daily Progress aka Today@Arcosanti) announcing the change in leadership, Soleri supposedly explains that its time for him to “do other things.” What other things are we talking about here? Most recently Paolo Soleri has been focusing his energy on this idea of building a Lean Linear City.

It seems that he might just have a couple of moves up his sleeve. Really though the only other thing he could be talking about is his having more of a focus on Lean Linear City.

I have mixed feelings about the change in that I don’t want him to just fade away but then again it might be a good thing for the project for him to become less involved and let some new blood in to get the project really moving again. However I don’t think there is much worry about his “retirement” as he seems to be pretty much involved as he was in the past but without the title of President.


  1. PR from the Cosanti Foundation website: NEW LEADERSHIP AT COSANTI FOUNDATION  [FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 13, 2011] http://www.arcosanti.org/today/2011/07/15/1310744130298.html
  2. One documentarian seems interested by Soleri’s retirement http://alifesworkmovie.com/blog/2011/07/paolo-soleri-retires/
  3. My report in the Arcology discussion group about the transition: Re: [arcology] Paolo Soleri resigns from Cosanti http://groups.yahoo.com/group/arcology/message/3837
  4. The Big Bug News – a local Newspaper reports on Paolo’s retirement: http://www.bigbugnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=443&ArticleID=51462

Are Green Cars just an Example of Paolo Soleri’s: Better Kind of Wrongness?

At Arcosanti, we often use the term Better Kind of Wrongness to refer to technologies that have developed in a way that do not address directly core problems associated with low density suburban development and its reliance on the car, the single family home, the freeway, the power grid, etc. Its really a holistic package of destructive components that when brought together in the form of the American Dream create the wrong kind of synergy in our lives.

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