Soleri Bridge and Plaza
Special note about the Winter Solstice: For the 2023 Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, solar noon in Scottsdale will be 12:26 p.m. If you want to see Soleri Bridge work as a solar calendar (see details below), we suggest arriving early to find parking in Old Town so you don’t miss the shaft of light stretching down the bridge.
Scottsdale’s breathtaking Soleri Bridge and Plaza, by renowned artist, architect, and philosopher Paolo Soleri, is at once a pedestrian passage, solar calendar, and gathering place along the Scottsdale Waterfront. The public space in Old Town Scottsdale appeals to a diverse audience, ranging from casual Waterfront visitors and local residents to students, tourists, architects, and art lovers. By celebrating solar events, the signature bridge and plaza unify the past and the present. The site of the waterway, rich with historic undertones, mingles with modern cultures striving for coherence between humanity and nature.
The dynamic project elements reference the range of Soleri’s work: a bridge marks solar events and connects humans conceptually across time, monolithic earth-cast panels reflect the Cosanti aesthetic, and the classic bronze bells—recognized internationally—have supported Soleri’s projects.
The bridge is anchored by two 64-foot pylons and is 27 feet wide on the south side narrowing to 18 feet on the north. Situated at a true north axis, the bridge is intended to mark solar events produced by the sun’s shadow. The 6-inch gap between both sets of pylons allows the sun to create a shaft of light as the earth moves. Each solar noon—which can vary up to 40 minutes from 12 p.m. noon—light coming through the gap produces a shadow. The length of this shaft of light varies depending upon the time of year.
At each summer solstice (June 21), when the sun is highest in the sky, no shadow is cast at solar noon, while at each winter solstice (December 21), when the sun is lowest in the sky, the shadow is the longest, reaching to the bridge structure. A red stripe along the length of the bridge deck follows the light and perceptually leads the viewer across the bridge. The bridge and plaza also celebrate the annual equinox events that are approximately on September 21 and March 22.
The 22,000-square-foot plaza includes totemic panels replicating the cast wall motif representative of Cosanti and Arcosanti. Each 3,500-pound panel was individually designed by Soleri with Roger Tomalty and produced at Cosanti in Scottsdale. The 10 earth-cast panels framing the southern boundary of the plaza use the illinoidal shape in various iterations with earth color pigments accentuating the various designs. A larger, 11th panel frames the north side of the bridge. The earth-cast process uses the desert earth with water and cement, which is then carved, before being cast in concrete and allowed to cure. The fabrication of these panels took nearly eight months.
The strong architectural carving on the panels creates a perfect counterpoint for the Goldwater Bell assembly, which reflects Soleri’s life work in architecture and ecology. Fabricated entirely by Soleri in 1969, the bell was part of the artist’s first U.S. retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Encased within the 22-foot tall pylons near the south edge of the plaza, the bell and the panels create an intimate gallery setting amidst the open plaza.
One of the most imaginative thinkers of our time, Paolo Soleri dedicated his life to addressing the ecological and social concerns raised by modern urban existence. Soleri’s career contained significant accomplishments in the field of architecture and urban planning. He conceived the idea of arcology: architecture with ecology. His seminal work of arcology—Arcosanti—continues under construction to this day, 50 years after its inception. Soleri’s design of the bridge and plaza encourages awareness of our connections to the sun and the natural world. Although designing bridges for 60 years, this was the first commissioned and completed bridge for the then 91-year old Soleri.
Scottsdale Public Art first commissioned Soleri for a bridge design to cross the Arizona Canal in 1990. In the nearly 20 years from his first design to the actual bridge construction, the area around the canal itself changed. With the advent of the Waterfront Residences and commercial venues opening in 2007, the area offered a context for the bridge crossing. In addition, with the completion of the Marshall Way Bridge, a pedestrian/trolley bridge, the need to complete a loop for users—pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians—to use the canal effectively became part of the design revisions. The city-owned two-acre parcel on the south side of the canal allowed the plaza to become part of the larger vision for the project. In 2008, with funding in place through the City of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Public Art, and Starwood Capital Group with Golub & Company and Ground Up Development Services, the project moved toward final design and the city’s development review board approval.
Salt River Project, the quasi-governmental entity that oversees the canals and water usage in the Valley, was instrumental in working closely with the design team. Over a 17-month period, the team addressed the current and future locations of the underground utilities in an effort to facilitate the design of both sets of pylons on the south bank. Over an eight-month construction period, the design team and construction crew worked diligently to accommodate the schedule and on-the-ground design revisions.
The much anticipated dedication of Paolo Soleri’s first completed bridge took place on Saturday, December 11, 2010. Nearly 1,000 people came to Old Town Scottsdale to witness event history in the making at the noon dedication and to join in the celebration. The crowd present at solar noon, just a week before the winter solstice, witnessed the stunning effect of the sun’s shadow, as a shaft of light between the six-inch gap in the pylons moved along the red stripe toward the deck of the bridge.
Soleri, Mayor Jim Lane, the Cosanti Foundation, Scottsdale Public Art, and Scottsdale City Council all joined in celebrating the completion of the landmark. A specially-choreographed performance by Vessel, directed by Rachel Bowditch, along with experimental analog electro machine music by Elektrobahn, and artists from Scottsdale Artists School painting live were just part of the dedication activities.
Soleri Bridge and Plaza is a joint City of Scottsdale Capital Improvement Project and Scottsdale Public Art commission with additional funding by Starwood Capital Group and Golub & Company, Ground Up Development Services, and Salt River Project.
Paolo Soleri & Cosanti Foundation
John Douglas Architects
Steve Martino & Associates
PK Structural, LLC
Akali Lighting Design
D. H. Lighting Solutions
Hunter Contracting Co.
Howard S. Wright Constructors
This artwork contains AR components.
Meet staff from Cosanti Foundation to learn about the layered symbolism of Soleri Bridge and Plaza. Virtually visit the historic studios of Paolo Soleri, Cosanti, and Arcosanti, and explore 3-D animations and time-lapse videos of this work.
LocationUnnamed Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, USA