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The Architecture of Communal Living: Lessons from Arcosanti in Arizona

Grierson, David (2001) The Architecture of Communal Living: Lessons from Arcosanti in Arizona. In: Proceedings of the Seventh International Communal Studies Conference: Communal living on the threshold of a new millennium: Lessons and Perspectives. International Communal Studies Association, Israel, pp. 215-228.

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Paolo Soleri's arcology model (architecture + ecology addresses issues of sustainability by advocating living in a balanced relationship between urban morphology and performance within dense, integrated and compact structures. Within these structures material recycling, waste reduction and the use of renewable energy sources are adopted as part of a sustainable strategy aimed at reducing the flow of resources and energy through the urban system. Today, as governments, eager to deliver major environmental improvements, press on with as yet untried and largely untested 'centrist' policies of urban living, there is a need to research relevant models of the 'compact city' approach. Issues involved with the intensification in the use of space, higher residential densities, centralisation, compactness, the integration of land uses and aspects of self-containment need to be examined. Over the last ten years, as the criteria of sustainability have become more widely accepted and understood, the relevance of the Soleri's urban model has become clearer. Arcosanti, begun in 1970, offers a laboratory for testing the validity of Soleri's ideas. This paper examines arcology and Arcosanti within the context of sustainability. Since the energy crisis of the mid 1970s, efforts at Arcosanti have been directed toward the definition and testing of various architectural effects on a community-wide scale that could offer a response to many of today's environmental problems. But progress is painstakingly slow. Lacking the level of funding and resources that would enable it to be convincing, Arcosanti now represents not so much a specific prototypal solution, but an activist-engaged strategy that advocates the possibility of building our dreams and visions. In a world plagued by so many problems and so few alternatives, it nevertheless continues to offer a beacon of hope on the threshold of a new millennium.