A night on the edge of Paolo Soleri’s arcology.

OR, I visited utopia and just have some cameraphone pictures to show for it.

Mediterranean Cypress trees make up just as much of the skyline as Arcosanti’s poured concrete habitats. I love it so much.

I don’t remember where I first heard about Arcosanti, but at some point I came across Paolo Soleri’s drawings: reimaginings of what cities could look like. I read about his philosophy of culture as an emergent property of architecture: that it is the tight integration of live-work spaces and the multitude of possible pathways that exist in urban settings that give rise to creative exploits — in the arts as well as politics and individuals’ organization of their own lives.

I looked at masterful drawings of megacities that reminded me of my own childhood drawings of space colonies. I was into sci-fi and the prospect of interplanetary civilizations, or merely humanity on the run in giant tin cans lined with pasture and crops lit by artificial skies. But Soleri’s visionary megacities were earthbound, situated on cliffs, in deserts and other harsh environments. More than just drawings tho, he actually went and built one. An experimental city in the Arizona desert, halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff. I visited in September of 2014.

Paolo Soleri was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Student. Even though he had already earned his Ph.D in architecture in Italy, he became an apprentice at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert school of architecture. FLW is highly regarded for his blending of the outdoors with indoors, creating homes that echoed their landscape and brought copious sunlight and scenery into living spaces. But he also had a less highly lauded vision, one that celebrated personal freedom afforded by the personal car — a new machine invented and popularized within the span of FLW’s career. “Broadacre City” sought to give everyone their personal space. An illuminating critique can be found on PaleoFuture. Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright considered Urbanism a scourge on humanity.

His apprentice Paolo Soleri, however, considered Suburbanism a scourge on nature, and didn’t think it did much good for people, either. When I visited Arcosanti last year, the spaces he built made a point. You don’t have to give up the feeling of wide open space to live in an urban environment. Soleri’s vision was for humans to build their steel and concrete all in one, uninterrupted mass — and outside of that, leave nature uninterrupted as well. Whether walking along the edge of the city, having a meal in the cafeteria, or getting into bed in one of the guest rooms, there is always an unending view of wilderness, from the city’s edge to the horizon. Just as Frank Lloyd Wright managed to integrate the landscape with the interior of homes, Paolo Soleri brought wilderness and sunlight into the design of an entire city.

Jessica and I climbed on top of a concrete dome — the roof of a workshop, and talked as we watched desert thunderstorms rolled by in the distance. There was absolute quiet here. Instead of the droning sounds of cars and trains and climate control, the night air was punctuated by distant laughter, or the occasional sneeze. The architecture had invited us to climb onto roofs by virtue of how smoothly the sidewalk transitioned onto them — it was all poured concrete, and nothing really denoted public property from private property. The apartments opened up to balcony-like spaces that were accessible from the sidewalk just as well, which gave the city a strong sense of horizontalism and equality. We were all guests on someone else’s creation.

The main economy of Arcosanti at present is giving tours of the city and the casting of artistic bronze bells. There’s a poetry to the bells’ sand casting process: it is essentially a miniature version of how many of the city’s major structures were poured.

An economy run on bronze bells doesn’t bode too well for the city’s population of 50–60 artists and architects, but I think Soleri’s vision still holds a lot of weight. His drawings often include “automated production” deep in the guts of the megacities, and I like to imagine what that would look like in the Hackerspace/FabLab context of humans partnering with robots to generate the stuff we enjoy and consume. Take the concrete planters outside the guestrooms: iron rails on the edge, just begging for a CNC gardening machine to zoom back and forth every hour checking for crop growth and disease. Perhaps an atmosphere of invention and experimentation could bring more tourists through the city, and perhaps the production of more than just bells (beautiful as they are) could start an economy and a culture that starts nudging the 1970s monument towards its visionary goals.

Drawings of Kowloon Walled City (via Spoon-Tomago) vs drawings from Soleri’s The City in the Image of Man

Building Brackets around the C-LEG prosthetic

This is Part Three. See: Part One, Part Two

Started out with some photogrammetry to capture the geometry of the C-LEG, which will hopefully allow me to 3D print a bracket that fits the contours of the the C-LEG precisely.

This first scan was enough to play around with, but ultimately the glossiness and the bright sunlight caused enough gaps and distortions that I had to do a photoshoot later that night using our CNC machine as a light box. The even lighting from the LED rope was just the trick.

The next step was selecting a portion of the C-LEG’s surface to extrude into a form fitting shell. Blender was used to create a mirror image of the scan, and MeshLab was used to align the two sides and fill in the holes so I had a reconstruction of the entire CLEG (Agisoft was only able to reconstruct one side of it — I could of went back and tried another photoshoot, but decided it would be faster to just duplicate the half that worked). In the video you can see the mesh of the whole C-LEG next to the original scan.

Blender and MeshLab were used back and forth here: Blender allowed me to select a portion of the mesh freehand and export as a separate STL. MeshLab allowed me to offset this surface using ‘Uniform Mesh Resampling’ and then construct a volume around the surface using Uniform Mesh Resampling with ‘Absolute Distance’ checked off. This created an excessive and messy edge, however, so I brought it into Blender to perform a boolean intersection, extruding the surface that I selected earlier outward to overlap with the portion of the new mesh that I wanted to keep. With that cut performed, I used MeshLab one last time to perform a ‘Surface Reconstruction: Poisson” to smooth the corners. To cut a slit in the back of the model I used Tinkercad, because it’s quicker to align and subtract a cube, knowing what I know.

And it actually clipped on the way I had hoped, wrapping around the edges — but there was a considerable gap. The inner diameter of the print was 60mm, while the C-LEG is 55mm wide, so I uploaded the STL to tinkercad at 91% of the original size to continue to prototype #2:

I used some cylinder, cube, and hexagon shapes to throw together clamps that I can add nuts and bolts to for this print, to see if I can really clamp down on the C-LEG enough to hang some weight off of it.

Ended up printing copies at 93% and 96% of original size. It is not a perfect fit, but once tightened down with bolts, holds on pretty well. This one cracked due to the nut turning against the plastic — the white ABS must have shrunk more than the grey ABS, which had holes big enough for the nuts to sink into without forcing it.