Inspired by the visit of James Graham from Columbia University, last week the Archives Salon was dedicated to 3D Jersey, the single structure, three-dimensional city airport designed by Paolo Soleri in 1968. The project is an example sui generis of an arcology of about one million people to be located in the New York – Philadelphia corridor. The work is realized in collaboration with the Bureau of Conservation and Environmental Science of Rutgers University and the Ford Motor Company’s transportation science department. 

(text by Laura Villa Baroncelli, photos by Ivan Pintar, Jeff Stein, Devron Lovick, Cosanti Foundation)

To attempt an answer to the problem of connecting air travel with the city, Soleri imagined to transform a non-place, to use the expression of Marc Augé, into a real arcology. “The city is enveloped by a major system of take off and landing facilities, the air terminal, inherently wrong and parasitic, is eliminated. In its place is the city where the travelers come from and go to”.  “Only by directing our attention to what the future should be, can we begin to feel home with what the future can be and consequently put our energy into its realization”. “Sooner or later this must be accepted, as there is not a really workable alternative for mass air transportation. People must be taken where they want to go and not somewhere in a parking lot, lost in the sticks”.

Extensive drawings and diagrams are made for the project and the giant cardboard model was exhibited at the Corcoran Art Gallery during the Soleri exhibition in 1970, but because of its specificity, the project was not included with the other Arcologies in The City in the Image of Man, published in 1969. 

An interesting point of 3D Jersey is the methodology used. As Soleri himself pointed out  in his proposal, the procedure is an inversion of the usual. “Usually we begin to work on a given topography. In this case the model is the topography that is being molded so that a more favorable landscape may be conceived”. “By the adoption of the verification process (as against the analytical) and the inherent feed back mechanism, the model will be altered, moving it from the abstract to the concrete”.”The original abstract model would change in dimension, proportion, function, denseness, balance, its components would be progressively reoriented as if made of rubber, it would slowly adapt itself to the invisible mold that the analysis of the problem would construct within its pliable structure”. This method was for Soleri a necessity to shift the costs to the end of the project instead at the beginning. It will be the Ford Motor Company contributing computer time, suppling the essential data based on the design and the study of the inner transportation system. The material produced by the Ford Motor Company is at this point not part of the archive collection and we hope to research its availability.

We take the opportunity to question the visual aspect of an Arcology. Soleri himself wrote:“very often it seems that the models present themselves a little too strongly. Which means that people are impressed or depressed by the models and the idea gets lost”.

Did Soleri view the “arcologies simply as “instrumentals” illustrating complexity-miniaturization”? Or, despite the fact he saw them not as blueprints but as conceptual ideas, did he imagine Mega-Soleri structures being built too? Probably both. Donald Wall thinks that if “ever one of the arcologies, not necessary Arcosanti, were built, thereby escaping obsolescence, only then would a formal contribution be made. Failure to explore complexity is in reality a failure to explore the viability aspects of the arcologies”. 

What is certain is that Soleri wanted to direct our thoughts to the future of our planet, and the urgency to begin rethinking the American Dream, with its muda, its waste of land, energy and resources. The colonization of marginal land and high density living, will be our future if we don’t rethink our way to live. “Frugality, leanness, doing more with less seems to be an imperative for human culture to move itself and the world forward”.

Excepts from:

Documenta A, by Donald Wall, 1969

3D Jersey, A Proposal, by Paolo Soleri, 1968

Paolo Soleri correspondence, August 25, 1969

Project Progress III, the metro urban area, Phoenix and Tucson, University of Arizona, June 1973

A conversation with Jeff Stein, by Laura Villa Baroncelli, 2017

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