Paolo Soleri Memorial: Day 1 Cosanti – 09.20.13

Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.
Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.

After a long trip from MA to AZ by car, I finally arrived at my destination: Cosanti in the Phoenix suburbs to begin a discussion about how the alumni of the Arcosanti Workshop Program could become more involved in moving the Arcosanti project forward in a decisive way. It also included those from the Cosanti Apprenticeship Program, which ended in 1970.

About 150 people participated and they ranged in age from 92 to 20. While there was an element that involved the honoring of Soleri, it also included several sessions to discuss the way forward and possible ways that alumni could support the further development of Arcosanti. The first day focused on giving a space and a soapbox for members to express their views on things in a more general way and then ended with a panel discussion of local experts familiar with Soleri which I missed.

James Carnahan, who did a workshop in May 1972 as was on Staff from 1972-77 was introduced to the group. He had worked with Jeff Stein on preparing the sessions and brining in professional facilitators to help us guide the process in an effective way. While I was skeptical at first about this it seemed it worked rather well and folks generally seemed rather pleased on the outcome of this event and were looking forward to getting down to business.

Event Discussion Agenda – A draft agenda was put together that basically went along these lines:

  1. Friday, September 20, 1pm to 4 at Cosanti Foundation: The Legacy of Paolo Soleri – what are the important ideas and how can they be implemented locally and globally?
  2. Saturday, 9am to noon at Arcosanti, two broad topics:
    1. How might Arcosanti function in the future?
    2. Discuss organizational forms suitable for implementation of the ideas coming out of Friday’s conversation.
  3. Sunday, 8am to 10am at Arcosanti: What role(s) can the alumni continue to play in support of the various missions, goals & objectives we have been talking about?

The following content I cobbled together based on my incomplete notes so I probably missed a lot of good stuff. Its my attempt to compile a set of reports on each of the three days we participated in this event together. If you have any suggestions, additions or corrections, please let me know by email at:

Cosanti Foundation President Jeffrey Stein speaks to Arcosanti and Cosanti alumni.

Andrew Brooks talks about the need to better communicate important information about the network and Arcosanti's history to workshoppers.
Andrew Brooks talks about the need to better communicate important information about the network and Arcosanti’s history to workshoppers.

Better Network Links and Education is Vital to Our Success – After Richard Register, a alum well known in the urban ecological design and development field spoke eloquently about his work, another younger alum, Andrew brooks, pointed out that he had never been aware of him or his work while at Arcosanti. In this vein, I got up and spoke about the need to improve educational and communications efforts to make sure there was awareness of the diverse people and ideas within the Arcosanti Alumni Network.

A “Practical Arcology” Approach is Needed to Successfully Address Local Barriers to Building Arcology Prototypes – I was impressed with Neil Urban who was an architect who worked in planning. He spoke of the deal with the realities of working with developers in Phoenix. Naming it the Real Estate Industrial Complex, he said that while it existed throughout the US, it was especially powerful in the Phoenix, because of the extremely rapid growth the region had experienced in recent times. This complex of vested interests usually inhibited the development of the kinds of ideas and visions that Soleri talked about.

In addition to the issues of the overall mentality of the economy, which revolved around a here we grow again mentality, we also had this mythic “rugged individualism“. Urban talked about the idea that to many folk around here their dreams revolved around an having at least an Acre of land with as big a house as possible and a right to carry a gun and drive their pickup anywhere they wanted: you come to AZ to drive your car.

While Urban noted a shift going on in development community, he emphasized the need to still see things within the context of the reality of the US and Arizona in particular: Property rights is sacrosanct. People see ownership as a fundamental right. No Arcology can be seriously considered in the region until property rights and ownership is clearly defined and assured.

Resolving the Ownership Issue – The issue of ownership goes beyond owning real estate, it gets to this idea that people have a stake in what they are investing their time and money into – that they are stakeholders. Soleri’s reluctance to embrace traditional notions of owning a home or condo in his work, made its serious embrace more difficult in the region. So as long as there is ambiguity about who owns Arcosanti and about how people who make long term commitments to the project will be rewarded, it is hard to imagine any feasible way that the project can move towards any “critical mass resolution“.

IMG_7246Tapping into the Spirit and Passion of Youth – One of the Arco-kids (people who spent part of their childhood at Arcosanti) whose name was Arianna did a workshop in 08. She said that young folks are looking for a sense of place and community and that Arco should capitalize on that better.

Arcology & Neo-Monasticism – Cuyler Page talked about the do it yourself ethos he found at the Monastery he had a chance to explore in Canada. They found all sorts of clever ways to save money. I think he mentioned that he also saw this as something that was part of the developing culture of Cosanti. Learn how to do it yourself and save money. To the monks, making money was secondary, but they found a way starting with the making of wine. What he found is that the people had a passion and deeper set of values that drove them towards their empowerment – towards creating a culture that found solutions to challenging problems.

I added Neo-Monasticism to the heading of this para because what Cuyler said during his speech reminded me that during the Paradox Conferences (97-01) Soleri came up with this word to describe how Arcosanti might evolve if it embraced the cyberpunk culture of the then still emerging Silicon Valley.

Separating Arcology from Arcosanti – I forget who said it, but there was a suggestion that we needed to separate the dialog between Arcology and Arcosanti. Possibly related to that separation process would be the consideration of the economic as well as social realities of the world in terms of the best and most ideal location for an Arcology. It was also noted that it might make the most sense to start building Arcologies in developing countries.

Arcology as a Potential Solution to the Climate Crisis – The climate crisis is one issue that needs to be resolved. Resources are not being used well and we need to become smarter in how we use them. Arcologies represent a way to use resources not only more frugally but in more Negentrophic ways. A more Frugal as well as clever way of living, like what Cuyler pointed out in his story about the monastery, is the first step. Developing more sophisticated technologies and integrated systems to create efficiency gains through system synergy might be a more advanced step as we accumulate we research, knowledge and skills to do this. I spoke about my belief that a well thought out and holistic design process can lead to powerful synergies that may improve the financial viability of the project – when I had the floor.

Arcology and the Evolving Notion of Community – How much Arcology development in the context of modernization affect our sense of community and collaboration? Evolving human communities and the notion of community is something to be considered in the process of determining how an Arcology will be constructed.

Register speaks about the Ecocity movement.
Register speaks about the Ecocity movement.

Arcosanti and the EcoCities Movement Richard Register has played a key role in beginning a process to better promote this thinking on a professional level among urban professionals interested and passionate about EcoCity development. Yet why has his work not been better linked to the Arcology Educational Program? Possibly part of the issue is that no clear program or strategy for creating such a program currently exists. This was a focus when I spoke later about the need to develop a well designed and easy to navigate infrastructure for disseminating and sharing relevant ideas within our network. Such a goal is the first step towards improving national and international comprehension of Arcology as a practical concept that is key to building sustainable cities and societies.

One thing that Richard Register proposed through his work with EcoCity Builders is an Ecocity Zoning Map that can add to the density and diversity of a city as it makes the transition to a sustainable Ecocity. This kind of approach can be used as a zoning model that moves cities towards a more Arcological way of building.

Complexity vs Complexification – Cities are complex ecological matrixes of interactions. They are complex organisms and we should be designing cities based on that. Complexity and not Complexification.

Rethinking Arcosanti Critical Mass (and Arcosanti’s Long Term Plans and Strategies) – Communications needs to be improved and more clear strategies created for reaching some kind of “critical mass realization” for the project so that it can begin to achieve or reach its long held goals and aspirations.

A clear and well coordinated/implemented strategy is key towards reaching some kind of critical mass as had been envisioned by Soleri as part of an attempt to create an intermediate stage of development called Arcosanti Critical Mass. The goal was to attempt to bridge the immense gap between what now exists and the plan for completing the final phase of the project called Arcosanti 5000. Yet it can’t be just about quantitative numbers, but an actual reflection in an improvement in quality of life of people living in that prototype sustainable habitat.

Tracy Macquade touched on issues about community and social development, but also the practical reality of how to better bring alumni together to move the project forward. The notes from her speech led me to pull together the following bullets that I feel offer a nice summary of this post:

  • More work needs to be done on reformulating the Arcology concept so that it is better explained why his work should supercede existing building technologies and approaches.
  • Up to now, the compelling relevancy of Arcology was not well articulated by Soleri or the Foundation.
  • How can we reformulate or reformat Arcosanti that its “rebooted” into a lean, mean Sprawl fighting machine?
  • Focus on our specific areas of interest where we can best serve the alumni network and the project, separating into groups that can help us to break up the formidable work that must be completed into order to move the project forward in a decisive way.
  • The stories of the people that came here – both then and now – are important and need to be better communicated within the alumni network.

One challenge has been and still is: How do we take these ideas – that have inspired us and kept us passionate about this man’s work for so long – and get them operating on a higher and more practical level in transforming our lives?

Finally to end all this…Are we being empowered? And if not what can change the dynamic in our lives so that what we do is better linked with the kind of world we want to create.

3 thoughts on “Paolo Soleri Memorial: Day 1 Cosanti – 09.20.13

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