Home » Micro-city in the desert embraces a utopian, sci-fi design


Arcosanti is a futuristic city located in the high desert of Paradise Valley, Arizona. It was designed by the late Paolo Soleri who broke ground on this project in 1970. In the late 60s, his concepts were embraced by the “hippie” counter-culture, dreaming of a utopian existence with life on a more human scale.

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Soleri was the visionary behind the philosophy he coined Arcology. It is a synthesis of architecture and ecology he also referred to as sacred design. Arcosanti is considered a developing prototype and while Soleri worked tirelessly until his death at 90, the small, sci-fi looking city on the bluff is still incomplete.

Related: This luxury eco hotel uses rammed earth and concrete design

A domed amphitheater structure

The mico-city he envisioned maximized sustainability and reduced the impact urbanization had on Earth. Rather than a typical grid system implemented in most cities, Soleri designed an organic layout with emphasis on access to the landscape and social interaction. Meanwhile, it will also provide privacy for its dwellers.

A sign that reads Acrosanti leading into the building

Additionally, the city was meant to be self-sustaining, thus creating a closed-loop infrastructure. The structures comprising this mini city are mainly south facing to maximize heat in the winter and daylight year round. The generous overhangs helped mitigate high summer temperatures, making the buildings off-grid for heating and cooling needs.

A curved roofing area

On the other hand, organic structures were built using a silt-casting technique utilizing the area’s clay-laden soil. Silt-casting in architecture is the process of creating a negative shape carved out of the earth’s sediment. The stunning dome-shaped structures on Arcosanti have added pigments from the surrounding soil to the silt to create artistic patterns. This process imparts a unique texture and use of the sourced material helps the buildings blend in with their natural surroundings.  

An outdoor amphitheater at night

The city’s dwellers maintain Soleri’s dream of a self-sustained existence through using materials of ore and clay found in the surrounding landscape. Arcosanti may not be lauded as the great success Soleri intended, but the shift in our paradigm for off-grid building techniques has many pioneers worth acknowledging, and he is certainly one of them.

+ Paolo Soleri

Images via The Cosanti Foundation



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