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The Cosanti Foundation’s New CEO Plans to Preserve the Past, But Embrace the Future

The Cosanti Foundation welcomes Elizabeth Martin-Malikian.

By Haven Lindsey | Photography by Chris Loomis

Seventy miles north of Phoenix lies the census-designated place known as Mayer, Ariz. It is not large enough to be a town, yet is home to a considerable global voice, Arcosanti. The urban laboratory, a project of The Cosanti Foundation (TCF), was founded on the increasingly accepted notion of arcology—the relationship between architecture and ecology and how to do more and live better with less.

Located in Paradise Valley, TCF and its Arcosanti project were born from the belief that cities function as living systems. At one point ahead of its time, Cosanti may well be today’s foremost ambassador to building ecologically sustainable communities built upon the principles of minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. 

On Dec. 1, TCF welcomed Elizabeth Martin-Malikian as its CEO and executive director. Martin-Malikian will oversee operations, facilities, programming and philanthropic initiatives for TCF, which encompasses not-for-profits Arcosanti and Cosanti, and the for-profit Cosanti Originals, maker of the distinctive, cherished artisan-made windbells. Purchase of the handcrafted, bronze chimes helps to support the resident artists.

The vision set by TCF in 1965 comes full circle with Martin-Malikian’s highly respected work in architecture, design and education. On the surface it seems to be a vast undertaking for someone who had a safe and secure tenured position as Professor of Architecture at the Kennesaw State University College of Architecture and Construction Management. “There is a tendency to get comfortable when one is granted tenure,” explains Martin-Malikian, “I wasn’t actually looking for a change, yet I saw the opportunity to join a foundation I’ve long admired.”

If TCF was a puzzle missing a piece, Martin-Malikian’s skills, experience and leadership prowess complete the picture. Kate Bemesderfer, senior director of development and communication for Arcosanti, worked with the TCF board to launch the search for the essential role. The process took six months—far less time than many anticipated. “We were diligent in our search and hosted potential applicants but when we saw the credentials and experience Liz has, it felt as though everything had fallen into place,” says Bemesderfer. 

With a global voice and international reputation as the preeminent venue for arcology, TCF has long championed diverse narratives, sustainable design and a breadth of artistic practices. The continued growth and construction of Arcosanti and its alignment with arcology informs and educates students, design professionals, urban planners and the general public. Clearly, Martin-Malikian is enthusiastic about the future. “At this transformative moment in history and for the field of architecture, I’m eager to continue to shape TCF as a crucial platform for engaging with the issues and ideas of our time through a critical and creative lens,” remarks Martin-Malikian. “Phoenix and Arizona are at the epicenter of climate change, and global studies are a big focus. There is potential to provide forums and host educational conferences on site and we are already working on that.”

As one of few females working in this historically male-dominated profession, Martin-Malikian has not shied away from the importance of empowering women and ensuring everyone has an equal and equitable voice at TCF. “We will preserve the past, yet we are embracing the future. The first 50 years at Cosanti were about one vision,” states Martin-Malikian. “The next 50 will be about the collective.”

Far removed from a myopic purview, Martin-Malikian’s collective vision includes growing the operation by 10% and implementing a new series of workshops and events. With more than 8,000 Arcosanti alumni, plans are underway for an alumni Earth Day Celebration in 2022. “Liz brings a future-facing vision we need for Arcosanti to continue and thrive, and we’re excited to move forward,” concludes Bemesderfer.

For more information, see Sources.


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