Dear Fellow Alum,
Best wishes from Arcosanti at the end of summer! Look at this quote from the new book WEST, by Lars Aberg, published this year in Sweden, about the new American West and our place in it:
“Paolo Soleri has designed ceramics factories, space communities and imaginative bridges. His work has been exhibited all over the world and he has written numerous books, filled with architectural philosophy. But in the end, nothing has been more important than to show, [at Arcosanti], that another world is possible.”
This is what we are trying to show. Since my last letter, around 35,000 people have visited the site; Cosanti Foundation has published three new books; Arcosanti has been the subject of a dozen magazine articles (including the cover story of SUSTAINABILITY this past spring); Lisa Scafuro submitted her film about Soleri to the Venice Film Festival; Aimee Madsen (whose work many of you helped to support through Kickstarter) submitted a rough cut of her film to Sundance; we’ve worked on student projects in a half-dozen architecture schools here and abroad; several of the staff have presented ideas at conferences in the US and China, and on radio and TV. The Arcosanti website <http://www.arcosanti.org> is entirely new. Please take a look at the result of - as those of you who are web-designers know - superhuman efforts by a whole group of people here, led by Tomiaki Tamura. The Arcosanti workshops are percolating along, and more people from around the world continue to learn about the place and its ideas by having the experience you pioneers first had here. We have more to show. I’m writing now to say: We need your help.
We are constructing a greenhouse, 3,340 square feet, Phase IIA, below the swimming pool, and guest rooms connecting to the East Crescent. Here we intend to test food and heat production at Arcosanti, the idea of an “energy apron” on a larger scale than we have before. And soon!
We created a design through the efforts of David Tollas, Nadia Begin and Jeff Zucker; and earlier this year received a building permit. Crews of workshoppers supervised by project manager David Tollas have placed concrete foundations, poured thin-shell concrete planting beds, created stairways and retaining walls. We now must raise $35,000 by the end of October to purchase the engineered greenhouse superstructure itself and its membrane. Pretty cheap, really; but to get it, we need your donation.
This is the first time anyone has used this particular commercial greenhouse system on a hillside to produce and deliver warm air to the top of the hill. Going forward, we imagine the manufacturer, Jaderloon, will want to partner with us in expanding this first experiment; but they need proof of concept first. So do we. We have already received donations in the form of cement (from Salt River Materials Group), Jason Hale’s structural/civil engineering services (from Core Structures Group), Jeff Zucker/Catalyst Architecture, workshop labor, and the time and effort of our own architectural planning staff. Now, we ask you to donate to help us complete work this fall, so we can plant this winter.
You know, advice from new business gurus like Seth Godin and others is to “discover your tribe” and build from there. You are Arcosanti’s tribe, and we are glad of it. Your work has made it possible for ideas about how to live, what to build, for concepts around “arcology” to continue making their way through the culture. Arcosanti is part of a dialogue worldwide about how to live in the 21st century. We’re making food and energy and solar greenhouses part of that dialogue. Please help however you can with this work: send your check to Cosanti Foundation, in care of Arcosanti, address below; or on the Arcosanti website, click “SUPPORT” and scroll down to “Greenhouse Development Fund” where you can donate any amount.
Thank you for all you have done so far to make Arcosanti a reality. I invite you to visit and survey the progress. We’ll certainly stay in touch as work continues on this new greenhouse; and we really do look forward to your help.
(Jeff Stein AIA: President, Cosanti Foundation. Arcosanti HC74 Box 4136. Mayer AZ 86333)
This is the most thoughtful, articulate, sensitive and sensible pitch-making letter I have gotten from anyone, anywhere, in a long time. And - trust me, I get lots and lots and LOTS of them.
I'm very glad of it. Truly and really, I am.
Yet much as I care about Arcosanti - my elder son was born of my love for Cosanti, 42+ years ago; Paolo is his godfather - Jeff Stein's appeal to its builders causes me to wonder what exactly I might actually be able to contribute at this time.
Even though I'm uncomfortable with the feeling that I'm caught between a 'rock and a hard place' - that's exactly how I feel. If I stop to analyze my feeling, what comes up for me is that I feel that way because I know as well as anyone (perhaps better than some) that Arcosanti is capable of betraying my faith.
I think it could also even be capable of betraying my intention, as well.
Not out of maliciousness. Far from it. In fact, undoubtedly to the contrary.
My concern is this: although I'm only one of its many builders, I am sure I'm not the only one who's donated "sweat equity" - labor, love, ideas, means as well as money - only to be told: Money, please; just give money. Money is what is needed, wanted. What Arcosanti wants, what Arcosanti needs, is to build its physical structure, all of its physical structures. Then (and only then) can Arcosanti build its community.
Therefore, consequently, I'm torn.
I'll try to figure out how to find a few bucks to give. Of course. Because I love the place and its people, because I'm happy to see the greenhouse is underway. (A Building Permit! What will they think of next?!) Because I can appreciate the wish, the hope that we who love it will want to abet this newest experimental test of an energy-saving system. Why not?
But at the same time, I'm cautious. Very, very cautious.
I have been following the erosion of Arcosanti Organics (Arcosanti's agricultural undertakings), which to my way of thinking and according to cutting edge urban planner-types, is crucial to the project's ultimate viability. An experimental greenhouse, even one that provides heat to habitat, is not tillable or arable acreage, which Arcosanti has in plenty. A greenhouse can be useful but it is an intentional micro-climate by design. One that isn't handicap-accessible will be insupportable, at least by me, and I've had no assurance the one under construction at Arcosanti will accommodate crutches and/or wheelchairs.
It has also been acutely painful, for me, to witness the destruction of Arcosanti's orchard, its failure to plant its fields, the (to me, anyway) conspicuous absence of a viable comprehensive plan for sustainable development of its apiary.
Moreover, I am party to a long history of what seems to me to be a concomitant (and to me, terribly problematic absence of) a commitment to development of programs that I personally believe are completely essential. Structurally essential.
What are they? What are those programs?
They are, specifically, community-purposeful programs. Community-building programs.
Therefore, with a great deal of all due respect, I say to you from my heart, Mr. Stein, Cosanti Foundation Board of Trustees President:
"Arcosanti's tribe" would love to see Arcosanti built. Completed. Now. In Paolo's lifetime.
How can that happen, you ask?
Here are some suggestions. Most of them are not new so at the risk of being redundant, I will simply offer them once again. Not in any particular order but since one must start somewhere, I'll start with one and then itemize several others:
1) Align Arcosanti with the consortium of working colleges <http://www.workcolleges.org/>
- Alice Lloyd College
- Berea College
- Blackburn College
- College of the Ozarks
- Ecclesia College
- Sterling College
- Warren Wilson College
2) Align Arcosanti within the Arizona Universities Network <http://www.aztransfer.com/AZUN> so that it can incorporate, all year 'round, residential scholastic opportunities for those who wish to enroll in and complete academic courses in variously opportune subject areas. For example: fine arts and expressive arts (drawing/painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama); as well as practical science (agriculture, bee-keeping, astronomy, anthropology, geology, hospitality, et al). All of these could take place at Arcosanti.
3) Align Arcosanti with the Ecovillage movement http://gen.ecovillage.org/ because Arcosanti stands to gain as much from that initiative as that initiative stands to gain from Arcosanti.
4) Institute a practical relationship with at least one architectural school (for example, the Bartlett) which can provide oversight for architecture, planning, engineering, landscape, and interior design students. Thereafter, initiate the following projects:
a) A world-wide competition (among technology and engineering students?) to come up with: i) effective waste-water conservation and disposal systems; ii) sustainable site transit systems linking highway to site, as well as intra-site (cable? trolley? bicycle/tricycle -friendly?); iii) proposals to retrofit the site so that it is completely handicap-accessible. (The prize winners will get to see their designs actually put into practice!)
b) A worldwide competition to retrofit the kitchen in the Crafts III building. Judges will be top TV chefs. Prize winners will get to hang out with the chefs, who'll prepare their specialty dishes in the new kitchen (for a show broadcast on network TV).
5) Honor site agriculture, including the apiary. As Alex Aylett, research director for Sustainable Cities International (based at MIT) says in the July/August issue of ReNew Canada, "Urban agriculture has become a key component of a strategy to create density that is liveable, active, and community oriented." Arcosanti doesn't need to reclaim unused land in the inner city, as Detroit has been doing: it has agricultural land immediately available.
6) Forego "company town" mentality in favor of open-to-suggestion business development policies. Encourage independent and sustainable business development people to establish themselves at Arcosanti, including those who are able to provide personal as well as product services (for example: barbers and counselors as well as beer-makers and boot-menders.)
7) Re-vitalize opportunities for investment in habitation-leasing (time-shares? co-housing? co-ops?): Cosanti Foundation can retain property ownership while lease-holders would obtain secure dwelling contracts, perhaps limited (as life-estates or land trusts are).
To close on the most positive note I can think of, I will offer, as Buddhists do, a dedication: Whatever understanding, whatever positive force may come from all of this, may it go deeper and deeper, and act as a cause to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all. Thank you, Mr. Stein, for your time.