The unknown and the forgotten: Paolo Soleri, a visionary

Paolo Soleri: enlightenment architect , visionary , creator of ‘important urban experiments of our time’. His motif: Less aesthetics, more ethics.

 

Near Tucson, Arizona, there is a city/community founded by Paolo Soleri in the ’70s, an architect who challenged the whole world on sustainability and the relationship between man and environment.

Paolo Soleri was born in Turin in 1919, and after a two-year collaboration at the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in the United States, he returned to Italy in 1950 with his wife Colly. He built a mobile home from a small truck that became a camper that could accommodate their family of three. Solar thermal energy was produced in a tank on the roof of the camper and heated the water for cooking and showering. This allowed him to move with minimal cost to adopt a libertarian vision of life, and to acquire a sense of experimentation.

In 1956, back in the U.S. and 70 miles from Phoenix, Arizona – Paradise Valley – he began his urban revolutionary process. The first step was the construction of Cosanti, a residence with a roof shaped like a dome with semi-basement studio, where he taught and designed the city of the future: Arcosanti, a neologism combining the words architecture and ecology (in Italian).

Arcosanti is a prototype of a town for 5000 inhabitants in dense, compact buildings to be developed in the vertical direction so that it did not take up land space, wherein the powerful concept is the vision of a man-environment relationship based on mutual respect and mutual listening. The passageways were designed to avoid the use of cars, thus be used for walking.

Large organic shapes, different from one another, surrounded by many smaller forms, each of which represents the primary activities of man: the towers containing the houses, the place of scientific research, the place of artistic creativity and craftsmanship, the centre of administration and business, the place of worship or religious rites as he called them: the all-in-one form, beauty in design, inspired by natural formations.

Drawn on long sheets of wrapping paper, extraordinary signs and drawings of great artistic and poetic force. The key word for Soleri is frugality, “do more with less”: less energy resources, less waste of space, less pollution. The city of tomorrow is born then with these imperatives: to intensify human relations, to optimize access to common resources, reduce waste, to harmonize the meeting of people with the environment.

Since then, more than seven thousand volunteers have contributed to the building of the city, realizing only 5% of it. To date, 14 buildings, including houses, a foundry, a music centre, swimming pools and a greenhouse have been created. In this community, everyone can still belong: guests, travellers, businessmen, artists, casual workers.

A supervisor, Roger Tomalty, wrote: “It was a community for the sake of the community itself, where you ate tofu and you gave pats on the back. It was the opposite of a hippie scene: a community of builders. If we wanted it to be, you had to work harder than you ever worked in your life.”

“If you are really concerned about the problems of pollution, waste, loss of energy, land, water, air and biological conservation, poverty, segregation, intolerance, containment of the population, fear and disillusionment, join us.” So reads the sign at the entrance of Arcosanti.