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Story of cities #35: Arcosanti – the unfinished answer to suburban sprawl

Four decades on, Paolo Soleri’s revolutionary Arizona desert vision of super-dense living remains a work in progress. Oliver Wainwright meets the volunteers who haven’t given up hope in his fusion of architecture and ecology

A cluster of concrete domes and vaults rises above a rocky valley in the middle of the Arizona desert, perched on the brow of the hill like the ruins of a space-age Acropolis. Beneath one richly patterned apse sit two women, carving cosmic symbols into freshly cast ceramic bells, while a second group pours molten bronze into sand moulds under another dome nearby. Slender cypress trees sway in the warm breeze, as the sound of wind chimes tinkles across the terraces.

This otherworldly scene, which feels like a New Age crafts retreat, is all that has materialised, so far, of a vision that was hailed by Newsweek magazine in 1976 as “the most important urban experiment undertaken in our time”.

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