An Early Eco-City Faces the Future | sustainable architecture |

THE pilgrimage began with a black-and-white handbill on a campus bulletin board. At the top was a sketch of an ultramodern compound rising above a desert canyon: a city upon a hill.

Next came the manifesto. “If you are truly concerned about the problems of pollution, waste, energy depletion, land, water, air and biological conservation, poverty, segregation, intolerance, population containment, fear and disillusionment,” the poster began. Then, at the bottom, the remedy: “Join us.”

Occupying the middle of nowhere must have appealed to the students, architects and seekers of the 1970s who founded Arcosanti, an “urban laboratory” in the desert 70 miles north of Phoenix.

After following a washboard road to the desolate camp, they would find a kind of kibbutz. Here, in workshops, they might build a 30-foot-high concrete vault or plant olive trees or cast bells in silt to sell for construction money.
Above all, they were able to join an ongoing colloquy with the city’s visionary designer, Paolo Soleri. In a cosmic language of his own invention (filled with phrases like the “omega seed” and “miniaturization-complexity-duration”), Mr. Soleri proselytized for a carless society in harmony with the natural world. Over the course of 40 years, some 7,000 souls would come and go.