unfinished future city arizona
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
February 10, 2024 ·  5 min read

There’s an Unfinished ‘City of The Future’ Tucked Away in The Arizona Desert

Tucked away in the middle of the Arizona desert there is an unfinished and not-so-aptly-named “city of the future”. This city, called Arcosanti, currently sits at 1.5% capacity and is only 5% complete. Construction, however, started 50 years ago. (1, 3, 4)

Arcosanti – The Unfinished City of the Future

Arcosanti is the brainchild of Italian architect Paolo Soleri, who dreamed of a city that was designed to be powered entirely by the earth’s natural resources. This city was meant to inspire sustainable designs in other cities and communities around the world. Instead, 5 decades after construction started, it sits barely finished with only about 80 residents out of the 5000 that it was designed for. (1, 3, 4)

Designed for Sustainability

Soleri designed Acrosanti in a way that meant residence needed no electricity or gas. He used a variety of techniques to achieve this: (1, 2, 3, 4)

  • Promote density and eliminate the reason for cars to be on the city’s streets.
  • Use sunlight to light homes instead of electricity.
  • Strategically plant vegetation to shade buildings and windows so there is no need for air conditioning.

Though some of Soleri’s ideas seem a touch outlandish (i.e. no air conditioning in the desert), he was ahead of his time on things like eating local, solar power and making places more walkable. (1, 2, 3, 4)

The History of Arcosanti

By the 1960s, Soleri was said to be the protegee of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and was inducted into the Museum of Modern Art. Because of that, as well as through the Cosanti Foundation he started with his wife, he had amassed quite the following of people ready and willing to volunteer their time to build Arcosanti. These were young students, filmmakers, architects, journalists, and many more. (1, 2, 3, 4)

With an army of helpers and a loan for purchasing the land, construction began in 1970. As it always goes with any construction project, many of Soleri’s designs were much more expensive than originally planned. It was difficult to procure funding for the various projects, his following of volunteers dwindled, and progress slowed to a near halt. (1, 2, 3, 4)

When Soleri died in 2013, he hadn’t finished a new building in almost 25 years. (1, 3)

Read: Israeli tech company making water from air gets top honor in Las Vegas

Arcosanti Festivals

An annual festival has been held every year since 2014 and has been the primary source of funds to keep the city going ever since. The Form Music Festival has been described as a creative retreat – a place where people can come for yoga, art installations, collaborations, and discussion, as well as see performances by both indie and electronic music artists. (1, 2, 3, 4)

The first-ever festival was actually held in 1987 and featured Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and Todd Rundgren. Over 10,000 people came, but the festival ended in disaster due to a grass fire that damaged over 200 cars and resulted in many lawsuits. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Now the festival is more modest with a cap of 2000 attendees. Most people write a letter about how they will contribute to the creative nature of the festival to give themselves a higher chance of securing a spot. Headliners now include artists such as Skrillex and Florence + The Machine. (1,2 ,3, 4)

Living in Arcosanti

Since the beginning, Arcosanti has attracted vagabonds, hippies, and those looking to live an alternative lifestyle. Some people come and stay for 6 months to 5 years, others are more long-term (5-15 years), and there are others who have chosen to live there for life. Some have been there since the beginning(1, 2, 3, 4)

The people who live there currently earn minimum wage working for the Crosanti Foundation. They work 40 hours each week doing ground maintenance, construction, or administration. Some also work in the town’s archive, cafe, and gallery. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Much of the money for the city comes from the sale of bronze bells that are made in the city.

Residents have the option of paying a $75 fee for a food discount and unlimited access to the swimming pool, housing, the music library, and other facilities. They are allowed to have pets, but only 12 cats and 8 dogs. In order to live there, you have to send in an application. This includes a letter of intent, as well as participation in a mandatory workshop that teaches building renovations and other upgrades that are several weeks long. If your application is accepted, you are then placed in a “housing pool” that prioritizes people based on length of residency – the longer you’ve lived in Arcosanti, the better housing arrangement you will get. (1, 2, 3, 4)

The Real Paolo Soleri

Paolo Soleri was not the generous visionary that everyone thought him to be. His daughter, Daniela, published an opinion piece in 2017 where she spoke openly about how her father sexually abused her. She described him as a narcissist who only associated with those who he deemed important or that he could get something from. On its website, Arcosanti has a #MeToo tab with a statement acknowledging what Daniela went through and supporting her. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Arcosanti: Not the City it was Meant to Be

Despite his grand plans and the volunteers’ best intentions, Acrosanti never turned into the self-sustaining city it was designed to be. Many of the residents who live there still shop at regular grocery stores and use air conditioning and heating units in their homes. Since his design, however, other designers and architects have taken the idea of sustainability and applied it in their own cities. Ideas for solar-powered skywalks, heated roadways, driverless cars, pneumatic trash tubes, and self-repairing windows are all ideas currently being worked on in cities like Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Toronto. (1)

Though Soleri’s idea never came to full fruition, the idea of creating more sustainable cities is one that is only becoming more popular. Perhaps Soleri’s Arcosanti inspired more than he thought.

Read More: This Smart Forest City in Mexico Will be 100% Energy Self Sufficient


  1. https://www.sciencealert.com/an-unfinished-city-of-the-future-is-hidden-away-in-the-arizona-desert
  2. https://arcosanti.org/
  3. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/paolo-soleri-arcosanti-arizona
  4. https://www.surfacemag.com/articles/paolo-soleri-arcosanti-legacy/