Mar 172013
 

Windbell on display at Cosanti

A visit to the Paradise Valley location where Paolo Soleri windbells are made

I love the melodic tone of the Paolo Soleri windbell hanging in the entrance to my pergola. My small bronze bell rings infrequently unless the wind is strong, one clear sweet note reverberating through the yard.

 

This winter I revisited Cosanti in Paradise Valley Arizona, where I bought my bell several years ago. Bronze and ceramic windbells can be found here.
 
Melting bronze at Cosanti
Melting bronze at Cosanti
I arrived as bronze casting was beginning and watched the work in progress. The roar when the bronze is melted caused me to cover my ears. The bronze is heated to 2200 degrees before pouring into molds. Small molds are poured first, then the large ones. The melted bronze cools to 1000 degrees after sitting for one minute.
 
Pouring bronze into molds at Cosanti
Pouring bronze into molds at Cosanti
After several hours, the bells are cool enough to take out of molds and brush the sand off. At one time, when Cosanti had no neighbours, smaller bells tumbled in a cement mixer to be cleaned. Now that the area around it has filled up with expensive homes, the practice has been discontinued because of the noise.
Ceramic windbells at Cosanti
Ceramic windbells at Cosanti
Silt, a mixture of clay and water, is used to make the ceramic bells. The ceramic apse, where the ceramic bells dry, has been situated in such as way as to accept the heat and light of the lower winter sun and to provide shade from the summer sun.
 
Large commissioned windbell on display at Cosanti
Large commissioned windbell on display at Cosanti
Cosanti is the gallery, studio and residence of Italian-American architect Paola Soleri. Soleri coined the word “arcology” by combining “architecture” and “ecology”. He began work on experimental buildings on this site in the mid 1950’s. Cosanti features terraced landscapes to allow water to drain to lowest point and earth-formed concrete structures. Many structures are partially underground and surrounded by mounds of earth for natural insulation. 
 
Seating area outside student residence at Cosanti
Seating area outside student residence at Cosanti
The original vision was of workers living and working on the site. Today staff do not live on-site, but students may live in the residences for one to several months. Cosanti translates to “Against Things”, reflecting Soleri’s anti-materialist stance. We could not enter the housing buildings, but a peek through the windows revealed a minimalistic lifestyle.
 
wood support for swimming pool cover
Wood pillars supporting the concrete canopy shading the pool at Cosanti.
One wonders how long the wood beams will be able to support the weight.
One of the workers provided a description of the casting process and a tour of the grounds. He described themselves as artisans, not artists, because they do work “in the style of”.
 
He highlighted the major difference between Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright was about straight lines, angles and wide open spaces. Soleri’s style is more rounded. He believes in density, that people should live, work, and play in the same area, a space that that doesn’t require a car, a lean alternative to urban sprawl. Arcosanti, about 70 miles north of Phoenix, is a urban laboratory based on Soleri’s theory of compact city design. The profits from the windbells fund that experiment.

Cosanti is a designated Arizona historic site. The best time to visit is on a weekday morning when bronze casting is done. Casting stops at 12:30 so pieces are cool enough by 2:30 to take out of the molds. You can call ahead to confirm casting times.

Cosanti
Items for sale at Cosanti shop

Update: Paolo Soleri died in April 2013. Cosanti remains open with artisans producing work in the Soleri style.

  One Response to “Cosanti: Windbells and More”

  1. It was a great visit. I really enjoyed the tour.

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