Paolo Soleri was born on June 21. 1919 and yesterday would have been his 97th birthday. We remember his extraordinary life with a few glimpses.

photo: PAOLO SOLERI with students and apprentices under the Vaults, early 1970’s.
Photo Credit: Orlando Cabanban Photography

photo: PAOLO SOLERI with apprentices during construction of the roof of the Antioch Building at Cosanti, 1976.
Photo Credit: Tomiaki Tamura

photo: PAOLO SOLERI with residents and workshop participants in the Ceramics Apse at Arcosanti in the late 1970’s.
Photo Credit: Ivan Pintar

photo: PAOLO SOLERI in 2009 at his 90th birthday party at Arcosanti.
Photo Credit: Ellen Ryan

Paolo Soleri on Arcosanti, from “Arcology, The City in the Image of Man”, published in 1969:

The Cosanti Foundation is working towards the betterment of man’s condition and the conservation of nature, inasmuch as they both depend on the creation of efficient and humane cities. The foundation is investigating new urban patterns and the structural systems necessary to their existence.

The construction of this new complex will apply and test elements of such patterns and structure at the small end, so to speak, of the urban scale.   

Given the physical, cultural, and ethical impasse man has now arrived at, Soleri considers this undertaking as necessary, essential, and as urgent as any program considering man.

Life is by definition experimental (indeed nothing relative to the urban dilemma is anything but experimental. We are groping, groping or dying: a thing that must enter the minds of policy makers, power-holders, planners and architects).

It is experimental but not haphazard, in fact, there is an overall discipline. The valid foundation for urban life is the open acceptance of the same tenets guiding any other form of a super-complex inter-working of purposes and functions. It is the extreme compactness of the physical system that sustains and supports them.

The avalanche of life and “goods” that is cascading on us is begging for a structure. Meaningfulness is not something that extravagantly comes into being. Nothing in the universe has such kindness in store for man, nor can we seriously desire such casual demiurgy.

If it is true that there are structural priorities that every civilization must define for itself, then to make sense out of our physical environment has a very urgent call for priority.

Arcosanti is being built by students and professionals from all over the world. The main concern of the community-school is investigation of and experimentation with arcological concepts. Its module is the individual rather than the family because a high percentage of the population is students and apprentices. Working, learning, living and playing is all “under” one roof, with a density of about 200 people per acre.

If the cosmography governing the land were square, that is, if a square sun rising vertically on the straight horizon were to describe a square orbit in the cubical sky, the scheme of the structure and its parts would be square. For our spherical cosmography the structural morphology is spherical based.

The reason for making this dependence is not farfetched because in the Cosanti Foundation many of the activities are to be developed in sheltered-but-open spaces. To succeed in this, the main problem is to tame the sun by selecting those radiation’s that are “kind” and rejecting those that are “unkind”. Its curve trajectory demands curved “traps”.

In any given system the most complex quantum is also the liveliest one. In any given system the liveliest quantum is also the most miniaturized.

A.     Life proceeds by countless performances of ever-increasing complexity.

B.    such performances take place in proportionally shrinking spaces.

Any increment in complexity will incite a corresponding contradiction or miniaturization of the performing system.

D.    The urban phenomenon is a process of increasing complexity and must take place in proportionally shrinking spaces.

E.    As the incremental complexity of urban society is irreversible, a miniaturization of its structure becomes indispensable.

F.    Urban ignorance will not resolve itself in favor of man outside the elementary and universal rules of complexity miniaturization..

G.    The Cosanti Foundation program is the only thrust into the urban dilemma that consciously undoes unreservedly abides by these rules.

The subject is the city. The aim is:

1.    to develop a historically sound concept of the morphology of the city as an ever evolving organism.

2.    an on-going test of the conception by verification process, transferring ideas into the actual construction of a micro-city.

3.    To proceed from beginning to end of the program, already under way, in the manner of an open-ended process to be lived in and experienced by some thousands of apprentices and students.

The priority is the definition of the physical structure, which is indispensable for the social organism that will inhabit it. The guiding lines are pragmatic:

1.    The city is a bio-mental organism contained in a mineral structure.

2.    The city is an organism of a thousand minds.

3.    The city is an organism in a constant process of complexification.

4.     Nature shows that for all organisms or society of organisms with any increment of complexity, there corresponds a spatio-durational contradiction of its functions.

Complexity is a function of miniaturization. This is a rule that makes up the stuff of reality itself and cannot be amended by politics, economy, religion, science or philosophy. In fact, all of these are of it as long as they deal with mass, energy and life, not with “naught”. Naught is necessarily a suburban melancholy.

5.     The enormous complexification working itself into the social organism makes mandatory a correspondingly enormous contraction of its urban container.

6.    It is then evident and inevitable that this scatterization, tearing apart our towns and cities, is a degenerative process, not a growth process. It is necessary to have instead a miniaturizing contraction.

7.    The miniaturization rule, a direct injunction of the logistics of matter-energy, must be respected universally. It must be observed by any system offering a physical modicum that will afford a sound and swift logistic for society and thus set the premises for the physical freedom and exuberance needed.

Structure comes before performance.

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