Visionary Architect Focus: Paolo Soleri

By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
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Countercultural architect Paolo Soleri looked beyond the bounds of four walls and a roof to orchestrate his vision for comprehensive ecological design.

"Paper architects" frequently dream up futuristic visions for the built environment that never transcend theoretical discourse. In his thousands of drawings, architect and artist Paolo Soleri (1919–2013) envisioned structures that supported a way of life more in tune with the ecosystem than the contemporaneous resource-consumptive culture. "His genius lay in his artistry and imagination," says Claire C. Carter, an assistant curator at work on a series of Soleri exhibitions at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Architect Paolo Soleri envisioned Arcosanti as a structure for 5,000 people. Construction began in 1970 but stalled before it could be completed. However, it continues to be a cultural hub in Arizona. Daily meetings take place in an area known as the Vaults, which functions akin to an ancient Roman forum. There, people discuss events, sell produce, and make announcements.<br><br>Photo by: Peter Bohler

Architect Paolo Soleri envisioned Arcosanti as a structure for 5,000 people. Construction began in 1970 but stalled before it could be completed. However, it continues to be a cultural hub in Arizona. Daily meetings take place in an area known as the Vaults, which functions akin to an ancient Roman forum. There, people discuss events, sell produce, and make announcements.

Photo by: Peter Bohler

"He reached beyond social conventions in order to imagine a world that encourages culture, art, and craft and brings people closer to one another and closer to the natural world," Carter explains.

A handful of operations staff live in on-site apartments. Rather than dig out a boulder that’s part of the mesa Arcosanti rests upon, builders incorporated it into the room. Woodworker Tim Daulton constructed the staircase.<br><br>Photo by: Peter Bohler

A handful of operations staff live in on-site apartments. Rather than dig out a boulder that’s part of the mesa Arcosanti rests upon, builders incorporated it into the room. Woodworker Tim Daulton constructed the staircase.

Photo by: Peter Bohler

Other architects explored high-density megastructures, but Soleri took the concept further by defining the social system of people living within his "arcologies"—a term he coined by combining architecture and ecology. In 1970, Soleri broke ground on Arcosanti, located 60 miles outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The "prototype structure for environmental and social transformation" put his philosophies into action. The self-sufficient community, designed to accommodate up to 5,000 people, features residences, commercial and institutional spaces, agriculture, and visitor accommodations.

Arcosanti is also home to a small number of artists and people passing through. Halley Anderson worked at Arcosanti in 2012 and does a handstand in the Sky Suite, one of the rooms available for rent.<br><br>Photo by: Peter Bohler

Arcosanti is also home to a small number of artists and people passing through. Halley Anderson worked at Arcosanti in 2012 and does a handstand in the Sky Suite, one of the rooms available for rent.

Photo by: Peter Bohler

Arcosanti was a visionary project when built and remains relevant today. Over 50,000 visitors annually make the pilgrimage to the site for public programs, musical performances, and to experience Soleri’s magnum opus in action. On April 9, 2013, at the age of 93, Soleri passed away. A memorial commemorating his life and work takes place at Arcosanti the weekend of September 21, 2013. arcosanti.org

Most of Soleri’s arcologies— conceptual hybrids between architecture and ecology—were never built, including Novanoah II Arcology, published in his seminal 1969 tome Arcology: The City in the Image of Man.<br><br>Images courtesy Arcosanti.

Most of Soleri’s arcologies— conceptual hybrids between architecture and ecology—were never built, including Novanoah II Arcology, published in his seminal 1969 tome Arcology: The City in the Image of Man.

Images courtesy Arcosanti.

 

The ribbon-like Lean Linear City: Arterial Ecology. <br><br>Images courtesy Arcosanti.

The ribbon-like Lean Linear City: Arterial Ecology.

Images courtesy Arcosanti.

 

His masterwork was Arcosanti, still vital over 40 years after construction began.<br><br>Images courtesy Arcosanti.

His masterwork was Arcosanti, still vital over 40 years after construction began.

Images courtesy Arcosanti.

Diana Budds

@dianabudds

A New York-based writer, Diana studied art history and environmental policy at UC Davis. Before rising to Senior Editor at Dwell—where she helped craft product coverage, features, and more—Diana worked in the Architecture and Design departments at MoMA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She counts finishing a 5K as one of her greatest accomplishments, gets excited about any travel involving trains, and her favorite magazine section is Rewind. Learn more about Diana at: http://dianabudds.com

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