Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology

My Google alerts for “Arcosanti” brought to my attention a stunning photograph by Niall David. I left a comment on his site and a correspondence began. Eventually I asked him if he would like to contribute some photos to this blog.  He was game and then went above and beyond, writing an excellent post about his experience as a visitor at Arcosanti. Thanks, Niall.


If you ever have the opportunity to visit Arcosanti, take it. I understand why David has taken such a liking to the place, and why Soleri and the project are featured so prominently in A Life’s Work– it’s a project that no one alive today will see the end of…

I work as a Sustainable Design Specialist for a global architecture firm and happened to be in Arizona at the GreenBuild conference in Phoenix. A few colleagues suggested a side trip to visit Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, and I thought it well timed. I had first gotten wind of this magnificent “urban laboratory” while studying under Dr. John Todd at the University of Vermont as an undergraduate in 2000. Embracing the onset of my ecological design career, the intention of Soleri’s vision intrigued me, and having taken advantage of the journey, I can tell you it sure was worth the trip.

I only spent one night there last November, but I was so entranced I made about 1000 images of the site in about 24 hours. I’m ecstatic that I’m able to share some of them here on David’s blog and I hope it inspires his readers to head out and explore…

Arcosanti is the kind of place you can get lost in, a place where you can lose yourself in curiosity you haven’t felt since you were 6. Whether it’s sitting on top of one of the apse’s and watching the sunset or just simply wandering around while experiencing the sounds of the many Soleri windbells that grace the site. I’m sure you’ve never been anywhere like it.

I’ll never forget arriving. The gate along the main dirt road greets you with an appropriately weathered welcome sign, and that’s where the adventure begins. I checked in to my guestroom, soaked in the view of the red dirt, the lush cactus and the Agua Fria River, then grabbed the camera and started my trek. Except for a few hours of sleep, in my limited time there I probably wandered or explored for about 95% of it…

One of my favorite finds were the many old pieces of heavy equipment scattered behind the main structures. They gather thoughts of progress in this magnificent place. When I saw the old rusty Caterpillar machine sitting in the middle of the desert as the perfect rays of sunset grazed it’s still signature yellow surface, I couldn’t pass up a portion of the sunset hour by it.  I have no idea if that old cement truck still runs, but it sure has some stories to tell.

Along the way, Soleri used his creative talents to produce the ceramic and bronze wind bells to help financially support the design and development of this experimental town. They’re all simply amazing, and no two are alike. They are hanging everywhere, and when the desert winds crawl through the land, you’re constantly calmed by the soft soothing sounds they emanate. Two Soleri bells came home with me to our apt, and on breezy days I’m taken back to a time when I sat on top of the Foundry Apse and watched the sunset over the Arizona desert.

I decided early to wake up before the sun the next day and slept well in the pleasantly minimal accommodations. It was well worth the reduced hours of slumber to see first light grace the desert scene. The panoramic is three images stitched together showing the entirety of the town at dawn.

Visiting is like taking a step into life as a true community, where every member has an equal active role and everyone is in it for the greater good of society. Take the tour, chat with the locals, and make sure you spend the extra money to stay the night in the rustic accommodation (it’s very inexpensive). You’ll learn a lot about Arcology, “Paolo Soleri’s concept of cities which embody the fusion of architecture with ecology.” I only spent that one day there, but I left feeling like part of the whole thing.


Note: For a resident’s perspective, make sure to read Nathan Koren’s Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever.

Niall David is a photographer based out of beautiful foggy San Francisco, California. Hailing from the suburbs of New York City, he is a student of the both the natural and urban world. An avid music lover, he composes images that exhibit the inner and outer beauty of the people and places that surround us. His primary focus is on music and live performance photography and he is also active capturing landscapes, abstract images, details and urban scenes during the day and long after the sun has gone down…

He and his camera have traveled extensively in the United States, Northern Europe, Israel, and New Zealand among other amazing places. His education and experience in the fields of environmental studies and sustainability inform his take on our interaction with the beauty of the world, which in turn attributes to how he presents it to the viewer. A sustainable design specialist for an architecture and design firm by day, Niall’s love for capturing the human experience through music & the performing arts, enchanting natural scenery and urban scenes come alive in the off hours.

4 Replies to “Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology”

  1. Hi Niall,

    Thank YOU for agreeing to showcase your photos here.

    And if you have any photos of redwoods or gospel music performers or space related stuff, I’m sure we can find a place for them here.


  2. Hmm, being in N. Cali, redwoods I can do; hope to get a trip up the coast this fall… If I go visit my friends in Charleston, SC again I’ll photograph those who sing gospels for you too 🙂 Would have to leave the space stuff up to NASA & SETI, unless you have connections to those who can get me close to the things you’d like photographed, which I’d be happy to do (just looked them up and realized SF is not too far away from the SETI Institute)…

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