Bells of Wonder - Page 2

When architect Paolo Soleri was swayed by the wind along the path of organic modernism
Bells of Wonder
Built in 1968-'71, the Pumpkin Apse remains one of Cosanti's most interesting architectural experiments.

Arcosanti prospered, pulling in acolytes who would pay for the privilege of working there and attracting much press.

Architectural scholar Reyner Banham wrote in 1982 that "the general effect really is very like camping out in grand style in a great Roman ruin." He described Soleri is a "guru" and "messiah," and described Soleri's flock as "flower children, giving freely their labor."

Soleri's designs for arcologies called for immense, all-encompassing structures for human habitation, industry, recreation—in fact, all human activities. They were 'man-made topography,' where people would live, instead of in suburban neighborhoods scattered across the globe, thus preserving the natural world for nature.

Some arcologies were shaped like cubes, others like pinwheels, some carved into the sides of cliffs. Architectural critic Ada Louis Huxtable referred in 1960 to arcologies as "clustered mushrooms and snorkeled megastructures," and added "they are not to be taken literally."

  Bells of Wonder
Three very distinctive examples of Cosanti wind bells, which make for a unique decor touch in a mid-century modern home.

Arcosanti was "a city built on the proceeds of bells," Jacqueline Alexis Meyer wrote in her 2016 UCLA thesis, Crafting Utopia: Paolo Soleri and the Building of Arcosanti.

Indeed, in the introduction to Soleri's book 'Arcology,' architectural historian Peter Blake said of Soleri: "He supports himself and his family by making ceramic and metal bells that swing in the breeze and make nice sounds."

The bells and other ceramic and bronze art objects still help fund the Soleri enterprise. "Selling the bells helps everything to keep going," says David Tabor, a bell maker at Cosanti for the past 15 years.

Tabor helps produce 60 bronze bells daily, in a sand mold that he decorates with his own incised designs. The designs, which are drawn in the sand with plexiglass tools, are his favorite part of the process. "That's the meat and potatoes of it," Tabor says.

The bronze bells come with varied patinas, or can be burnished to "feature hues of magenta, purple, blue, and orange," Cosanti says on its website. All bells come with clappers, chains for hanging, and fins to catch the wind. Sound of the bells ranges from "deep, church-like bell rings to high-pitched tinkles," Cosanti says.

  Bells of Wonder

Soleri's architecture at Cosanti inspires Tabor's bell designs. "You walk the property, take in the architecture, and try to put the spirit into the bells," he says.

He also notes that Soleri built his architecture in a similar manner to the casting of the bells. "This is where Paolo experimented with earth casting. It's similar to how we cast bells, but it's on the macro level."

Earth casting involves pouring concrete over earthen mounds to produce architectural forms. Jacqueline Alexis Meyer described the process of building the first structure at Cosanti. "Soleri translated his ceramics process to an architectural scale," she said. "He piled the earth in his backyard into a mold, fit a chicken wire over the pile, poured concrete over the chicken wire reinforcement, and invited his friends to help dig out the dirt."

About the architecture, Tabor says, "The forms are part of the earth. They come out of the earth."

Arcosanti still exists as a living community, and a tourist destination in the Scottsdale area. Over the decades thousands of acolytes, many of them architecture and art students, have taken up residence there. They built the community and maintain it, and continue Soleri's educational mission.

  Bells of Wonder
More architectural stops in and around Cosanti, which is open to visitors.

Two years ago, Arcosanti in effect merged with Wright's former school, the School of Architecture at Taliesen, in nearby Scottsdale. The school is moving from Taliesen to campuses at Arcosanti and Cosanti.

Over the years Tabor has acquired many of the bells he helped create. One he got when he and his wife refinanced their house. Hearing it chime brings back that memory. He has bells hanging from an old, nicely painted children's swing in the backyard. Those bells create soothing sounds.

"That's my space when I need to go outside and meditate and be quiet," he says.

• For more on Cosanti Originals and their wind bells, visit

Photography: David Blakeman, Rick Lloyd, Tom Conelly, Michael and Sherry Martin, Dr. Bob Hall, Andrea, Space Trucker, Sean & Erica; and courtesy Cosanti Originals, Knife & Fork Media Group

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