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Discover Cosanti’s Progressive Experiments in Architecture

The otherworldly structures and dwellings that comprise Cosanti are recognizable to the many thousands of people who have visited this cultural treasure in Paradise Valley. Arrestingly imaginative, these original structures date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s and have earned Cosanti a place on the Arizona Registry of Historic Places. Cosanti was built by Paolo Soleri (1919-2013), an Italian-born architect, urban designer, and philosopher. Including Cosanti, less than ten of his projects have survived. 

Soleri experimented on a large scale with his “earth-casting” technique in 1956 to create the innovative structures found at Cosanti. Built almost counterintuitively, from the roof down and outside in, many of these unusual spaces were created by first forming a concrete shell over mounded dirt. The soil beneath this shell was then excavated out (usually by hand) and what remained became a structure’s walls and - roof. The structures at Cosanti are experiments in passive solar heating and cooling, frugality, recycling, and cleverly building structures according to the sun’s position in the sky to warm the semi-outdoor spaces in the winter and cool them in the summer. These ancient concepts influenced Soleri’s thoughts on how humans can create a built world to live in that is in balance with nature. He called this idea “arcology,” a blend of “architecture” and “ecology.”

Like arcology, “Cosanti” is a combination of two words that embody the spirit of Paolo Soleri’s emphasis against hyper-consumerism: the Italian words, “Cosa” and “anti” translate as “against things.” The Cosanti Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1965 by Paolo Soleri and his wife, Colly, to advance a philosophy of forming communities focused on living more fully with less… and with a less detrimental impact on the ecology of the Earth. Predating the Environmental Protection Agency and Earth Day, The Cosanti Foundation is supported in part by the sales of windbells at Cosanti Originals and continues the work Soleri began over 65 years ago.

Embracing the concept of arcology, The Cosanti Foundation’s mission becomes more and more relevant in today’s world as human civilizations grow larger and more complex. The need to live more sustainably is critical as society is faced with designing cities to accommodate a rapidly growing population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and with many coastal communities needing to relocate inland due to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Compounding the projected population explosion is the notion of how the Earth’s natural resources – the ecology – become compromised as food shortages, climate change, and a culture of relentless consumer consumption continue unchecked. To this end, the guiding principles of The Cosanti Foundation are a progressive rationale for why re-examining the way communities are formed and human habitat is built in balance with the environment is critical in the 21st century.