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I headed down an isolated desert dirt road in Arizona to the experimental community of Arcosanti, not knowing quite what to expect.

Arcosanti is a creative laboratory for innovative design strategies to combat urban sprawl. Located in the desert about 65 miles north of Phoenix (take exit 262 off I-17), it’s the brainchild of visionary designer Paolo Soleri. The 93-year-old Soleri was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Soleri had a falling out with the master and developed his own ideas about the future and possibilities of design.

Upon my arrival at Arcosanti, I took a walking tour of the grounds and exhibition area guided by one of the young residents. Exhibitions of designs and displays of Soleri’s books and papers reveal a glimpse into his design philosophy. He coined the term “arcology,” a combination of architecture and ecology.

This philosophy has manifested in Arcosanti, a work in progress since 1970. The various stages of Arcosanti’s development are chronicled through photographs, drawings and news clippings. Soleri believes that urban models of large cities such as Los Angeles are not sustainable. He suggests that various alternative design strategies, including megastructures, may offer an alternative to urban sprawl. Some critics have called him naïve, but he’s attracted throngs of followers, particularly among young designers and urban planners.

Visitors are welcome and can stay overnight in spartan rooms with a shared bathroom. My room offered a beautiful view of the surrounding desert. Concerts are often presented in the Colly Music Theater.

Check out arcosanti.org for more information. Paid positions and 3-month internship activities in a variety of areas are available. “Arcosanti – A Better Vision of How to Live,” an article by John Wolcott of the Boston Globe archived on the Arcosanti website, presents an excellent description of what the experience of living and working there is like.

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