The goal of Arcosanti is to explore the concept of arcology, which combines architecture and ecology. The project has the goals of combining the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles, such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. The project has been building an experimental town on 25 acres (10 ha) of a 4,060-acre (1,640 ha) land preserve.
Ground was broken in 1970 to begin construction on the site, and has continued at a varying pace through the present. The most recently completed building was finished in 1989. The population has tended to vary between 50 and 150 people, many of them students and volunteers. Ultimately, the goal has been for Arcosanti to house a population of 5,000 people. Thirteen major structures have been built on the site to date, some several stories tall. One master plan, designed in 2001, envisions a massive complex, called "Arcosanti 5000", that would dwarf the current buildings.
Many features are particular to the design and construction of Arcosanti. For example, tilt-up concrete panels are cast in a bed of silt acquired from the surrounding area, giving the concrete a unique texture and color that helps it blend with the landscape. Many panels were cast with embedded art. Most buildings are oriented southward to capture the sun's light and heat — roof designs admit the maximum amount of sunlight in the winter and a minimal amount during the summer. The structure built to shelter bronze-casting is built in the form of an apse, a quarter-sphere or semi-dome. The layout of all the buildings is intricate and organic, rather than the grid typical of most US cities, with the goals of maximum accessibility to all elements, a combination of increased social interaction and bonds, together with privacy for the residents.
Existing structures at Arcosanti are meant to begin to provide for the complete needs of a community. They include: a five-story visitors' center/cafe/gift shop; a bronze-casting apse; a ceramics apse; two large barrel vaults; a ring of apartment residences and quasi-public spaces around an outdoor amphitheater; a community swimming pool; an office complex, above which is an apartment that was originally Soleri's suite. A two-bedroom "Sky Suite" occupies the highest point in the complex; it, as well as a set of rooms below the pool, is available for overnight guests. Most of the buildings have accessible roofs.
Visitors' center and residence
Arcosanti has a Camp area, built by and for the original construction crew. It is used today as housing for people most interested in development of the agricultural department. Camp has a small greenhouse, with easy access to gardens and large agricultural fields that as of March 2017 were not being cultivated. Terraced greenhouses are planned along the slope of the main building site for winter plant and garden space, and to collect heat to distribute through the buildings.
Arcosanti was conceived of and remains primarily an education center, with students from around the world visiting to attend workshops, classes, and to assist with the continuing construction. 40,000 tourists visit yearly. Tourists can take a guided tour of the site or make reservations to stay overnight in guest accommodations.
Some Arcosanti funding comes from selling the bells made and cast from clay and bronze on site. Additional funding comes from donations, and fees for workshops that last up to five weeks. Much of the present construction at Arcosanti has been done by workshop participants and volunteers.
The average salary at Arcosanti is minimum wage.