Through his work as an architect, urban designer, artist, craftsman, and philosopher, Paolo Soleri explored the countless possibilities of human aspiration. One outstanding endeavor is Arcosanti, an urban laboratory, constructed in the Arizona high desert. It attempts to test and demonstrate an alternative human habitat which is greatly needed in this increasingly perplexing world. This project also exemplifies his steadfast devotion to creating an experiential space to “prototype” an environment in harmony with man.
In his philosophy “arcology” (architecture + ecology), Soleri formulated a path that may aid us on our evolutionary journey toward a state of aesthetic, equity, and compassion. For more than a half century, his work, marked by a broad-ranging and coherent intellect (so scarce in the age of specialization), has influenced many in search of a new paradigm for our built environment.
Born in Turin, Italy on June 21, 1919, Paolo Soleri was awarded his Ph. D with highest honors in architecture from the Torino Polytechnico in 1946. In 1947 he came to the United States and spent a year and a half in fellowship with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona, and Taliesin East in Wisconsin. During this time, he gained international recognition for a bridge design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and published in The Architecture of Bridges by Elizabeth Mock.
He returned to Italy in 1950 where he was commissioned to build a large ceramics factory, “Ceramica Artistica Solimene.” The processes he became familiar with in the ceramics industry led to his award-winning designs of ceramic and bronze Windbells and siltcast architectural structures. For over 40 years, the proceeds from the Windbells have provided funds for construction to test his theoretical work.
The Establishment of the Cosanti Foundation
In 1956 he settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his now late wife, Colly, and their two daughters. Paolo and Colly Soleri made a life-long commitment to research and experimentation in urban planning. Later in 1964, the Cosanti Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation was established.
The Foundation’s major project is Arcosanti, a prototype town in central Arizona based on Soleri’s concept of “Arcology,” architecture coherent with ecology. Arcology advocates cities designed to maximize the interaction and accessibility associated with an urban environment; minimize the use of energy, raw materials, and land, reducing waste and environmental pollution; and allow interaction with the surrounding natural environment. Thousands of workshop students have participated in the educational program and on-going construction of Arcosanti. The site hosts more than 30,000 visitors each year.
Starting as a teenager and throughout his life, Soleri has produced an extraordinary range and volume of creative work. His trademark is large scrolls, explorations of Arcology designs done in pencil and crayon on large open-ended butcher paper, typically 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm) in width and 30 to 180 feet (10 to 60 m) in length. His work also includes bronze and aluminum sculptures, pencil and ink drawings, architectural models and thousands of sketches, many self-bound in aluminum plates.
Soleri has written numerous books and essays. He is perhaps best known for Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, published by MIT Press, in which the concept of Arcology is outlined and illustrated with astonishing graphics and rich details. The first edition published in 1969 established Soleri as one of the most innovative minds of our time.
Since a record-breaking exhibition at the Corcoran Museum in 1970, Soleri’s work and ideas have been explored across the globe. Other exhibitions include the “Two Suns Arcology, A Concept for Future Cities” at the Xerox Square Center in Rochester, New York in 1976, “Soleri’s Cities: Architecture for the Planet Earth and Beyond,” Scottsdale Center for the Arts in 1993, and “Soleri Retrospective: Ethics and Urban Inventiveness” Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome, Italy in 2005. In 2010 Soleri’s Lean Linear City design was featured at the exhibition “Three Dimensional City: Future China” at the Beijing Center of the Arts (BCA).
Soleri has received a fellowship from the Graham Foundation and two from the Guggenheim Foundation. He has been awarded three honorary doctorates, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for Craftsmanship in 1963, the Gold Medal from the World Biennial of Architecture in Sofia, and is a distinguished lecturer in the College of Architecture at Arizona State University. He has earned numerous awards including the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Medici Award for lifetime of excellence in the Arts and the Commendatore della Repubblica Italiana, for excellence in the field of arts and sciences, awarded by Consul General of Italy.