Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Arcosanti: Enclave in the Arizona Desert and Tribute to the Legacy of Paolo Soleri

"On April 9, 2013, the world lost one of its great minds.  Paolo Soleri, founder of Arcosanti, was an architect, builder,  artist,  writer,  theorist, poet, husband, and  father."

The hard cover of my new journal (dedicated March 21, 2014) has an architectural theme. I chose the design in part out of a desire to reconnect with my undergraduate training at Notre Dame's School of Architecture, and to reignite my passionate interest in the built environment--particularly the potential of architecture to improve people's lives.

I never wanted to become an architect in the mold of a Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) or others whose style is so iconic that they become a brand. One did not (or does not) tell a FLW or a Frank Gehry (1929- ) or even a Stanley Tigerman (1930- ) what one wants. Rather, one waits in line for the master. One offers tribute and takes what one is given.

I suppose being a brand is nice work, if you can get it. Honestly, though, I never aspired to work that way. I prefer a service-oriented approach to design. My philosophy is more collaborative, facilitating an iterative design process aimed at revealing what the client already knows but is unable to express.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) said "Architecture is my delight" and, though never formally trained as an architect, Jefferson obviously studied Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and mimicked the Italian's designs (Villa Capra) in his American tributes (Monticello).

Like Jefferson, most of us are familiar with DaVinci (1452-1519), Michaelangelo (1475 – 1564) and Palladio. But a different, more modern and less well-known Italian is the subject of today's post. Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was an architect, ecologist, author, systems thinker, and philosopher. Interestingly, he was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, but his quiet, introspective, and even insular personality caused him to pursue his career in a much different fashion from that of his mentor and other branded practitioners.

Portrait of Italian architect Paolo Soleri standing in an archway.
Wayne Rainey took this definitive portrait of Paolo Soleri in 2003 for Shade magazine.  

Today, Soleri is mostly remembered for his eternal ideas, expressed temporally in:
  • the physical manifestation of his philosophy of urban living (Arcosanti),
  • the crafts (wind bells, etc.) sold to finance his Utopian experiment, and 
  • his esoteric writings and lectures about spirituality (The Omega Seed). 
Soleri's work is studied and admired by architects, anthropologists, social scientists, craftsmen, poets, economists, and philosophers. I am writing about Soleri's work today because I feel that his vision has the potential to produce sweeping positive results on the evolution of our species.

I have visited Arcosanti, his social experiment in urban design and living. I own a couple of his famous wind bells. I have his book, The Omega Seed, and have even made a couple of valiant attempts at reading it. Some readers are more familar with Soleri than am I, and other reasders are learning about him for the first tiome. As always, your comments are welcome.


Photos show Arcosanti, from its origins in beautiful conceptual sketches, to its slow construction over a long period of years, to the way it appears today, constantly being modified by the artisans and craftsmen who live there in the Utopian commune.

Wind Bells

I have a pair of bronze wind chimes. a.k.a. Soleri Bells, manufactured at Cosanti. The sculpture studio at Arcosanti is called Cosanti, meaning "Against Things" . If you like chimes such as the ones seen in the photo and want to support a good cause, I recommend you spring for the bronze chimes. They are more expensive than the ceramic, but they sound better and they last longer. Sadly, I know this from experience!

The Omega Seed

Soleri's treatise is called, The Omega Seed: An Eschatological Hypothesis

The Omega Seed is a continuation of the essays of Paolo Soleri. His earlier work, The Bridge Between Matter and Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit laid the theological and philosophical foundation for Soleri's approach to designing the urban environment. This volume brings together the more recent writings of Soleri on eschatology, that branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of mankind. Soleri believes that the simulation of the divine will provide man with a blueprint for creation--not only of our physical environment, but also of a new stage in the evolution of mankind. He opposes the "things" and "consumption" of a materialistic society. Instead, Soleri advocates redesigning the urban civilization of earth around principles of "Arcology," Soleri's coined phrase denoting the union of Architecture and Ecology.

Paolo Soleri

I will always admire Soleri's "sustainability concepts — complexity, frugality, and miniaturization," and the Italian-born architect's "impressive futuristic renderings of what cities could evolve to be."

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013), the visionary founder of Arcosanti


  • Arcology: Soleri's coined phrase denoting the union of Architecture and Ecology 
  • Cosanti: literally "with spirit," but used by Soleri to mean "Against Things"   
  • Eschatology: that branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of mankind


Article in The American about Lisa Scafuro's movie, "The Vision of Paolo Soleri"
Home page of Arcosanti
Omega Seed by Paolo Soleri on
The gorgeous photography of Wayne Rainey
Alastair Gordon's beautiful tribute to Soleri