Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren

Nathan Koren, a resident at Arcosanti in the mid 90s, happened upon the blog and sent me a wonderful e-mail.

I’ve written a lot about the experience, but kept most of it unpublished… there’s a passage from a longer piece I wrote  (called ‘A Place Undefined’) which I thought you’d appreciate, so I might as well share it with you. I think it seems to hit the spirit of what you’re getting at in your film.”

I asked him if I could post the passage to the blog and he graciously agreed. The photo was taken by Nathan as well.

Beneath a full moon, when all is quiet, the site takes on an otherworldly presence. The mysterious, softly illuminated geometric forms seem to imply a mute cosmic order that the modern world knows too little of. More striking, and awe-inspiring, is the incompleteness of it. Concrete tunnels run underground and giant piers reach into the sky, waiting to support structures that might not be built for decades.

Arcosanti is a generational project: I won’t live to see it completed. Neither will my great-grandchildren. It’s difficult to come to terms with this: you want to see it complete, at first. You want it now. When someone moves to Arcosanti, it takes them months to accept that it is being built so slowly. But then, among some, a kind of rapture sets in – an appreciation for the fact that in such a fast-paced world, a project like this exists at all. Today, people wonder how the medieval cathedrals could have possibly been built. We usually assume that sheer religious devotion, with promises of kickbacks in the afterlife, kept the workers in line through their centuries of toil. I don’t believe that this was the case. Like raising a child, there is a deep satisfaction in working on something that you will never see to completion. When it comes to architecture and the urban landscape, our modern world has quite forgotten this very primal feeling.

Imagine a ruin: walls strain to support roofs which are no longer there; barely perceptible pathways trace the habits of people long gone. You sense the vertiginous chasm of ages between you and these stones, and you wonder when the roof collapsed, and who the people were that once lived their lives beneath it. In your gut, you feel a greater sense of history, of your own place in the arc of time, and thus a deeper connection to your own humanity.

A construction site is a kind of ruin, too. Doorways open upon paths that do not yet exist, columns strain to support roofs that have not yet been built. Like a ruin, a construction site can give you a visceral bridge across the gap of time — but into the future instead of the past. With modern financing and construction techniques this bridge has grown incredibly short — a few months or years — and we are unspeakably poorer for it. At Arcosanti, the bridge to the future stretches for centuries — a city on the edge of forever.

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I’d say it hit the spirit of the film dead center. Thanks, Nathan.

About Nathan Koren

Nathan first visited Arcosanti as a tourist in 1988, at age 11. Arcosanti and Soleri’s ‘Arcology Theory’ made a deep impression on him, and he decided on the spot to work towards finding better ways to build cities. He later lived at Arcosanti from 1992 until 1996, with occasional brief stays thereafter. In 2001 he received his architecture degree from Arizona State University, and pursued an architecture career in Portland, Oregon, focusing on green, mixed-use, transit-oriented design. Becoming dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional architecture and urban planning, he then decided to pursue a career in transportation, which he believes to be the root cause of urban form. Receiving an MBA from the University in Oxford in 2008, he began working for ULTra PRT, a company that makes a zero-carbon, space-efficient public transport system which he believes will be the key technology for enabling car-free cities. Nathan spends the vast majority of his time flying between various countries in Asia, consulting for governments and developers, living out of hotels, and generally wracking up a bigger personal carbon footprint than anybody he knows. But he remains committed to implementing something akin to Soleri’s arcologies, and idealistic enough to believe that will happen not only within his lifetime, but within the decade.

E-mail Nathan: n k o r e n [ a t ] g m a i l [ d o t ] c o m

4 Replies to “Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren”

  1. Thank you for this . i know Nathan and Nancy, his mum.
    In fact, Nathan came by my “salon” a couple of months ago….he really understands the project (Arcosanti)and always has from when he turned up as a young genius type.
    Nancy tells me that he has a bad situation with his back now.
    I trust it will be dealt with soon …he is too important as a force for change to be minimised.

  2. When I was at Arcosanti in the summer, people spoke glowingly and lovingly of Nathan. I’m so glad he agreed to let me put this on the blog. It’s a special piece and has been viewed by many people.

    I wish you good health, Nathan.

  3. David –
    This is gorgeous. Ruins, generations, repetition – all part of it, isn’t
    it (like I even know what I’m saying; yourssays it, so thank you for the post). That is one fantastic photoraph – stop. ped.me, that’s for sure – up on the rooftop, looks like a dance to the universe, yes indeed.
    Not nearly the drama, but didn’t we have incredible sunset skies yesterday evening right here in NYC.
    Best regards,
    J

    1. Joel! How nice to see you here!

      Thanks for your comment and kind words.

      Yes, that is one fine photo Nathan took. And you’re right, our skies were pretty dramatic yesterday, weren’t they?

      Bestest,
      David

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