Paolo Soleri died a year ago today.

[photo by Ivan Pintar; Soleri in 1970, in front of the 3D Jersey Arcology model at the Soleri exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC]

Here is a bit of his writing, from an excerpt from “Documenta A”, by Donald Wall, published in 1969.

“In 1968 Paolo Soleri writes “Ten Elements for Discussion,” which in many ways outlines the salient points of his developing arcology: complexity-miniaturization thesis.  Because the “Ten Elements for Discussion” is a key document more than others, it is reproduced here in full.

1.    Miniaturization.  In a universe ruled by the laws of mass-energy and burdened by the entropic slack, any step toward complexity, complexity now centered in the power of the mind, demands a corresponding effort toward miniaturization.  In a structure where the behaviour of matter would be as free from slavery of acceleration-deceleration as light is, miniaturization would possibly be unessential and the aloneness of things could not be so pervasive.  The lack of understanding, for instance, is still a deficiency of instantaneous coordination of numberless elements constructing the forthcoming act.  Miniaturization is not an end in itself but it is the inescapable by-pass toward greater complexity, that is to say, human and social fullness.  Within the perspective of evolution, the most pressing task of the earth’s human layer is the miniaturization of the physical container it works within.  Our urban systems are proto-miniaturized organisms.  They are not fit for life.

2.    The Map of Despair.  Population growth and affluence have suggested to planners the lay out of urban and suburban systems so extensive as to cover a high percentage of the usable land of the earth.  This is the map of despair and reminds one of the multiplying of pathogenic cells at the expense of neighboring healthy tissues.  This unbalanced growth ratio on a relatively shrinking planet will kill the biosphere of the earth and man who is a part of it.  Nor is the killing necessary.  Even the less final step of squalor and dreariness will do mankind in.

[photo by Jill Acorn Brinduse, Soleri on July 22.1990, speaking at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY]

3.    Equity and Congruence.  The well-being of man and society depends on two factors: equity and congruence.  Equity is a social necessity and it has been invented by man to balance his propensity for inequity.  Without equity the irrational, the illogical, the unjust (also inventions of man) would be rampant.  (They are.)  Congruence is proto-human, human, and ultra-human.  It is the necessary coordination of the many factors performing reality, the reality that developed from an unmanned universe and that might be moving toward an ultra-human reality.  Without congruence the structure of things falls apart, regardless of the niceties of this or that detail.  Ethics, justice, power, etc. are pre-empted propositions in the vacuum of incongruence.  Congruence is not ecological, that is to say, it is total or it is not.  Where it is not, it does not let anything else be.

4.    Utopia.  The bulk of life is negated when megalopoly and suburbia are taken as the environmental bulk.  The possible condition of equity achievable in them is not validated into the ecological condition of congruence.  In the present metropolitan fabric, the absence of the implosion of miniaturization renders the social organism ill-fitted for survival, let alone for development.  The environment of contemporary man is a statistical utopia taken in by the game of laissez-faire.  As such, it tends to make man abstract.

[photo of Paolo and Colly Soleri, courtesy of the Soleri family]

5.    The Bulb of Reality.  The real organizes itself like layers in an onion bulb.  Each of these is an end in itself and a means to something of greater complexity and scope.  Whatever the layer, any motion towards a new synthesis (or layer) is predicated on the backing of the preceding layer: if the vegetal layer were not there to feed it, the world of the flesh would be inconceivable.  Thus, the species of man is not possible without the preceding animal layer.  Each new layer is contained and sustained by the preceding.  It is not an accidental excrescence of it.  To sustain the next step in the development of sentient and reflective life (the noosphere of Teilhard de Chardin), man shall have to put order to his own layer: to structuralize his environment.  The second step will be the ultra-structure he will create out of such environment and himself.  To put structure in his environment he must define a neo-nature, a physico-mineral sub-layer apt, as nature is not, to render him specific and solely human services.  This neo-nature necessarily rooted into the geological and puncturing through the biological (biosphere), must be congruous with the general swill of evolution so as to be one of its makers.  It must then be, by necessity, of a miniaturizing character.  Abstract utopia with its map of despair is the only other alternative.

6.    Structure and Performance.  The geological is massive.  The vegetative is extensive.  The reflective is intensive.  There is no performance, real performance, outside the discipline defined by such structures.  Forgetting those rules is to be disassociated with the world of man from the whole of things.  To be so disassociated is to be discarded.  That much we have learned about the vectorial sway of the world.  The double opacity (sprawl and pollution) that we, the mental, are interposing between the vegetative enveloping the geological and the source of its life, the sun, as if the extensive belonged to the intensive, is stifling the biosphere, that layer that makes the mental possible.  By intruding massively into the performance of the vegetative, we are endangering the future through the miniaturization of neo-nature, remaining thus on the pauper side of reflection.  If we do not face those constraints, we are simply dismissing any trace of compassion toward ourselves, and the blunder of our species will go unnoticed notwithstanding its oceanic bleeding throughout its short history.

7.    Life is in the thick of things.  The thick of things well expresses the centeredness of life.  One of the barriers the vegetative was unable to break through has been the veneer-nature of its mechanism.  As light is essential to the photosynthetic process, the vegetal world has to direct its skills to those kinds of patterns that will expose the maximum skin and needs the minimum volume.  Even in the forest the aboveground structure is the clever dimensioning and orientation of sensitive veneers to maximum light available.  In the animal life, the ratio of skin to volume is reversed: minimal skin to maximum volume.  The energetic process is interiorized thanks to the high concentration of energy packages (miniaturization) feeding it.  The animal has in the brain its most miniaturized center of power.  It is from such an ultra-packaged universe that the mind can operate and reach to the outer limits of the possible.  It is as if step by step evolution would take account of itself and make a complete synopsis (miniaturization) of its achievements in order to have at its finger tips all of the available power for the next leap, demonstrating that the container of universality or wholeness must be the miniaturization of the best instruments available.  In the social context it is inevitable that the collective making of the species has to be constructed in a “cranial box” that is the miniaturized synthesis of the human ecology.  Compression produces reach (for instance the internal combustion engine).  The utter compression of the brain (miniaturization) engenders the limitless reach of the mind.  Similarly, the miniaturization of the urban system will cause the explosion of its creativity.

8.    The Organism of One Thousand Brains.  The mind of the city is composed of thousands of peripatetic particles all operating from individual brains.  In addition to this multiplicity of wills posturing themselves in collective veneers oriented toward the light (the vegetal kingdom), there will be a centralized brain of non-biological character  (unless technology allies itself to biology and medicine and brings the computer “science” back to the ancestral father, the organic).  The phenomenon then of the city, a congruent humanized micro-universe sustained by the neo-natural layer (the physical structure of the city) is an ultra-complex organism whose centralized brain is the instrument that works at the satisfaction of the thousands of epidermal individual minds bound together by the forces of sociality and culture.

9.    Yesterday’s City and Today’s Reality.  The evolution of the one-layer city has been brought to an end by the rubber wheel.  It all might be for the best.  Ultimate absurdity at times opens the door on greater coherence.  The city of today is of the past as of the past is an instrument that has killed it.  The car will be put out to pasture where it rightly belongs.  The city, shown is anachronisms, will seek its congruence within the ecological system of nature.  Such congruence is the implosive miniaturization of the utopia of ecumenopoly accepting the neo-natural topography that reaches up to hundreds of layers into the thick of things.

10.    Arcology the City in the Image of Man.  The ecological character of true architecture is to be affirmed if the utopia of ecumenopoly is to be stopped.  The wholeness of neo-nature is dependent on the wholeness of nature.  They both must move within the sphere of congruence according to the structure they belong to; extensity for nature, density for neo-nature.  Arcology is intensively ecological and because of its self-containment is able to be integrally accepted by the natural ecology.  It is a belonging of performance, not a belonging of parasitism.”

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