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Retro: Arcosanti and Hoover Dam
Alex Steffen, 28 Aug 05

Back in 2002, before we started WorldChanging, I spent six months travelling around the country, looking for signs of a sustainable future. The book I wrote about that trip was originally a travelogue, but the travel bits ended up on the cutting room floor, including two bits I posted here as quickchanges (the book itself was never published, for other reasons -- if people are sufficiently interested, and I can find the time, I'd like to publish it here sometime). I don't think anything else I've written here has brought me more feedback. People still send me email about these, or mention them when we meet.

From Night, Hoover Dam:

Just to the southwest of Las Vegas runs the Colorado River. Or rather, it used to run. Now it just sort of lies there, comatose, behind the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam is a marvel of engineering (if I were that kind of journalist, I'd bombard you here with a bunch of statistics involving tons of concrete and the number of men accidentally entombed in the dam's south wall during construction -- luckily for both of us, I'm far too lazy for that). It is also the only reason why the Southwest as we know it exists. Without the Hoover (and its scores of smaller cousins) the Southwest would look like what it actually is: an arid desert.

From Recycling Arcosanti:

The pottery studio – I keep calling it the Pottery Barn, but Bernadette doesn't seem to catch the joke, so I drop it – is cleverly designed. Built in an apse shape (think of a forty-foot tall concrete band shell), it lets winter sunshine flow into its glass-fronted workshops, while shading the whole area during the sweltering summer days. A circular trench runs in front of the building, turning the front of the floor into workbenches when needed. Bernadette goes on to describe in great detail the molding process used to make clay bells, but a young potter with an attractive cast to her features and an artisan's intense expression of concentration is sitting next to us, and I find myself distracted.

Arcosanti, she goes on to tell me, is now funded almost entirely through the sale of bells. It is essentially one big crafts guild. Which is a fine thing to be. Indeed, sitting there in the evening light, with birds chirping, and the young potter smiling my way, I can see the appeal: fuck it, let's all throw aside our worries and make bells. It'll be a good life. But it's not the City of the Future.

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Back at the beginning of the 1970s, I visited Arcosanti when it was just a tented structure and a concrete batching plant. A few months later I had a chance to ask Buckminster Fuller his opinion of Paolo Soleri. He thought for a minute and said, "Soleri is an artist, not an engineer."

Posted by: gmoke on 29 Aug 05



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