If you read my last post, you probably gathered that I’m a Paolo Soleri architecture super fan. And as if Arcosanti isn’t enough genius for one person to pump out in a lifetime, Soleri built another magical wonderland, Cosanti, as well. I can’t tell you which is my favorite because both are my favorite.
Cosanti preceded Arcosanti, with construction beginning in 1956 and it served as Soleri’s gallery, studio and residence in Paradise Valley, Arizona. The structures hint at his future dabbling into environmentalism and urban planning. Many of the buildings were literally built into the earth below grade to insulate against Arizona’s climate extremes and, like Arcosanti, make great use of passive solar partial domes. But while Arcosanti is full of thick, rigid geometry, much of Cosanti was built by casting concrete over mounds of earth resulting in a collection of loose, organic structures. The public areas are gorgeous, intriguing, and full of whimsical details. I can only imagine the beauty that sits out of reach to visitors, notably Soleri’s incredible residence and pool! In Italian, Cosanti literally means ‘against things’, things as in property. You know I’m trying to get there, so I’m feeling it all. But really, when Cosanti is your home and work, what possessions are you lacking in life? Granted, I have the maturity of a 13 year old boy. But sometimes the sincerest, and only, verbal response I can muster in the presence of spectacular structures is a quick “I want to be in you” shout. It’s the ultimate compliment if you are building anyways, right? That’s why my husband sometimes distances himself from me when insane architecture is involved. That definitely happened here. Meaning, I loved this place. SO MUCH. (More on our Arizona trip here.)
Continuing with our Arizona architectural adventures: ARCOSANTI! If you are unfamiliar with Paolo Soleri, he’s a genius nut most known for his pottery bells and his urban planning philosophy incorporating architecture and ecology, called arcology, a push back against the consumerism and suburban sprawl of the 60’s and 70’s. Arcosanti is Soleri’s experimental utopian town in the middle of the desert, about half way between Phoenix and Sedona. The town was designed to house 5,000 in an dense urban environment with a low ecological impact. Population has never neared that number and the town has never been able to gain self-sufficiency, a failure in those regards. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating compound with gorgeous concrete brutal architecture, an amazing 1970’s ode to squares and circles, that alone is worth the visit. And while it may never have reached it’s intended goals, many of Soleri’s thoughts on land use and living lean are eerily relevant today. You know I love suburbia, but I love eccentric dreamers too, and Soleri has my respect. Who has the vision to dream up a futuristic experimental town, let alone the guts to build it, and make it beautiful in the process?! Today it serves as a archology labrotory for students, volunteers, and visitors. I was honestly a little apprehensive about visiting with kids. There is a commune/hippie vibe and I wasn’t sure if families would be well received, but those worries were ridiculous. Absolutely go and absolutely bring the kids! We weren’t the only ones. My kids say this was their favorite stop that I forced them to explore – probably because it is rumored that Arcosanti heavily influenced George Lucas when designing the architecture for the fake planet Tatooine (the best part of Star Wars, right?!) and the similarities show, but I’ll take any architecture related enthusiasm at this point.
Unfortunately, we didn’t plan our visit very well and arrived at lunch time just after a tour had begun, but 2 hours before the next one would start, so sadly, we didn’t get take a tour. I was disappointed, but I’m still so happy we stopped. My kids were thrilled to find a chess set, the most beautiful set, in the dining room and I was more than happy to soak up every bit of public space allowed to those not touring, though I only scratched the surface of this place. There is a trail down and out back that offers a full view of the town. Don’t miss it, even if it’s 120F, but watch for snakes!
You can probably tell I had so much fun photographing this space. It is quite an inspiring place and simply stunning. I’m obsessed with the geometry and surface texture. I can’t wait to visit again and actually tour the rest! I’ll be back next time with even more Paolo Soleri goodness – Cosanti! He keeps on giving. Thanks for reading/looking!
I talked a little about our time in Sedona last week, so today it’s down to business: architectural delights. I always picture Sedona as a wacky retreat for New Agers searching for vortexes, so I was surprised to find this incredible modern chapel just south of town. It is utterly amazing and so appropriate for the landscape, neither competing with or being one-upped by those red rocks. God’s creation and God’s creation’s creation, a monument built for Him. Whether you are the believing type or not, this place will inspire awe and bring you to your knees. Turns out, the concept was actually dreamed up by a sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, in the 30’s and then brought to fruition in 1956 by architect Richard Hein. (After learning that, it seems glaringly obvious that this building came from a sculptor’s mind, doesn’t it?!) This article has some great info on history and process. I would have loved to photograph so many interior details (it’s a modernist dream!), but the day I visited was filled visitors in various states of prayer/reflection/worship so I disrespectfully snuck this one in to give you an idea. Forgive the crappy quality. I was entranced with the floating, winding, aggregate walkways and bench seats.
The chapel is a tourist destination (a bus full arrived while we were visiting), so I recommend getting there early or late if you want some alone time. After seeing all the exterior lights, I wish I would have done a drive-by at night too. We loved everything about Sedona so I’m sure we’ll be back one day! xoxo Jenny