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Sonora Cohousing, Tuscon, Arizona

A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".

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  • A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".


March 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Sonora Cohousing, Tuscon, Arizona


United States


Made 2005


Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


No markings on recto or verso In many ways Sonora Cohousing is typical of all cohousing—numerous environmentally sound practices are woven into the thirty-six homes and throughout the 4.7 acre site. Townhouses sit in groupings of three or four units around highly landscaped “placitas,” forming natural conversation points in the landscape. The “green-built” homes are energy efficient, with active and passive solar energy elements and are structured to facilitate water harvesting. The community’s three thousand five hundred square-foot common house is built from straw bale. Sonora’s social practices are also typical of cohousing: community, collaboration, conservation. But the most unusual aspect of the community is no longer visible to the eye: Sonora cohousing is intentionally built on an urban infill site. “Infill development” refers to the practice of making use of underutilized or empty sites within urban areas. The founding members of Sonora wanted to avoid destroying untouched desert—“blading unbladed land”— or becoming part of the suburban sprawl that requires new roads, sewers and schools every time a developer “leapfrogs” to build a community further out from the city center (developers are motivated to do so because the farther land may be less expensive—and offer better “access to nature”). The founders of Sonora not only made a choice for infill, they also adhered to the criteria that the site must be accessible by public transportation (in this case bus transportation) and that shopping must be within walking distance. What’s more, they chose a neighborhood with a high crime rate by Tucson standards, and yet they refused to become a gated community. This has meant that bicycles, and charcoal grills and watermelons, are occasionally stolen—but it also allows for meaningful interactions with neighbors (the three nine-year-old girls who stole the watermelon came back and sought out its grower to apologize). Something else invisible in this photograph: when the garden was being built, resident Don Arkin helped to create a compost area by building a wall around it. The much-disliked, stucco-like material he used was referred to as “doncrete.” An artist resident, Kendra Davies, created the mural that covers it without going through the community approval process. To date no one has objected. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


26.5 × 33.2 cm (image); 27.9 × 35.6 cm (paper)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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