In 1970, Paolo Soleri began construction at Arcosanti, his visionary community in the Arizona desert. By 1979, several modest structures had been erected along the edge of the mesa site, and Soleri was ready to undertake the more ambitious East Crescent, a mixed-use complex aimed at creating a lively and social community for residents.
The East Crescent Complex was designed to house 60 people in multilevel units arrayed in a half circle. Its central amphitheater was meant to double as a playground and marketplace. The vocabulary of curvilinear concrete forms characteristic of earlier Arcosanti structures gave way in the upper stories to lighter construction. Projecting concrete arms were designed to anchor a cable-supported canopy over the amphitheater. The complex was to be heated by warm air rising from a then-unbuilt greenhouse—which was intended to provide site-grown food—on the slope below.
Arcosanti’s minimal use of resources won the approval of the 1979 P/A jurors, who were concerned with energy strategies and had found too few entries that “made the energy considerations into something architectural.” Their enthusiasm for this project was tempered by “planning and formal systems” that they considered “unsophisticated.”
Since construction of the East Crescent began in 1980, thousands of participants in Soleri’s learn-and-build workshops have aided its realization. Yet today, even as Arcosanti’s activities continue after its leader’s 2013 death, the complex remains only 75 percent complete.
1979 P/A Awards Jury
Weiming Lu, Hon. AIA
Bernard Spring, FAIA