In May, we were fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to Arizona and visit the sites of Cosanti and Arcosanti, two unique communities imagined and created by famous Italian architect Paolo Soleri. Cosanti and Arcosanti, two sites in Arizona that are examples of his concept of “arcology” – or architecture cohesive with ecology. Born in 1919, Soleri and his numerous volunteers and associates have been building since the 1950’s at Cosanti, and since the 1970’s at Arcosanti. Soleri’s main focus and commitment is the interconnection of the city and its surrounding environment. The idea of arcology is reflected in his model city of Arcosanti, which is designed as an incredibly dense city, intended to maximize human interaction and increase the efficiency of the built environment. Arcosanti’s arrangement of space allows for the direct access to nature and its thorough integration into the city’s framework.
Paolo’s inherent connection to nature in his work and his philosophies is something to be admired. The forms of his buildings, the manner in which they are arranged, and the connections these spaces make with their occupants are all deeply rooted in the natural environment. As healthcare architects, we are always looking for ways to improve healthcare design, and throughout our trip we were inspired by many of Soleri’s concepts. The idea of preserving nature within the design is especially poignant to the lives of seniors within nursing and assisted communities, as nature is one of the greatest healing and restorative elements in life. Even for those fighting dementia, many things are forgotten, but the feeling of the connection of the human spirit to the earth is firmly engrained.
The density offered by the concept city of Arcosanti is very efficient. Jeff Stein, the President of the Cosanti Foundation, mentioned an analogy that describes this efficiency perfectly: 10,000 mice have the same volume as an elephant, yet an elephant survives on a fraction of those resources used by 10,000 mice. This concept is at the core of the urban density that Arcosanti represents. That density is also beneficial to seniors, as it keeps them connected to their community. In a densely populated environment, seniors live within close proximity of other generations. Children, teenagers, adults, and seniors all cohabit within this diverse community, bringing a sense of normalcy and purpose to seniors, who might otherwise feel isolated from other generations.
In his advanced age, Paolo is still very active and maintains his passion in his work. Having always lived with the clarity of his architectural vision, he is a guide and mentor for others who share his beliefs. To support the efforts of the ongoing construction of Arcosanti, Paolo started making bells early in his career. Now there is a team of people who keep Paolo’s dream going, making bells, giving tours, and further advancing the purpose of the Cosanti Foundation, striving to one day complete the prototype city of Arcosanti. While visiting Cosanti, we got a chance to meet Paolo Soleri and talk to him about his life’s work. Despite all the wonderful spaces and fantastic drawings we experienced, what stood out to us the most was the amazing clarity in the eyes of Paolo, as well as all the people working at Cosanti/ and Arcosanti. You could feel the passion, the raw, unwavering dedication to their cause. We hope that in some small way, we have absorbed that energy and can carry it with us throughout our work.
Spending time with people that carry this kind of intense spiritual force with them reminds us that it is not just about healthcare, or architecture, or spacial arrangement – it is about life and the delicate balance of everything that is so precious to us as human beings.