a permanent representation of a different time and a different ideology
May 31, 2013 3:56 AM   Subscribe

Paolo Soleri Is The True Legend Of The Arizona Architecture Scene. print version. Soleri passed away last month at the age of 93. He is best known for the arcology, Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert. Remembering Life in Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s Futuristic Desert Utopia

The New York Times published a slideshow last year: Arcosanti, as It Exists Today
arcosanti and the arc-as-state - "To go back to Soleri’s earlier writings is to recall the rampant optimism of his age, a time when it made sense to speculate on your urban model’s viability in outer space, when the potential of the “computer age” to blur the boundaries between living, working, and learning was a source of inspiration rather than the subject of endless anxiety."
posted by the man of twists and turns (11 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
It's an interesting place.

Lots of chickens.
posted by bardic at 4:06 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Spent the summer of 1981 there.

Hail in sunlight. A rainbow under my feet. Turn a corner and you are in the desert.

Went there thinking cities in space and Yes album covers. Left thinking about cities designed for people, not cars.

posted by dragonsi55 at 4:25 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

My first FPP was on Arcosanti. By the late 2000's, the place (and especially nearby Cosanti) felt more like a distribution system for bells & wind-chimes. But a very cool idea, at the very least.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:36 AM on May 31, 2013

I was very influenced by Soleri in my youth. I would pore over my copy of "Arcology: The City in the Image of Man" trying to discover it's opaque secrets. It was published in a unique wide format that made it seem very tome-like. And those pictures! They seemed to disappear into infinite detail into the page.
I was given the opportunity in Junior High to teach a course for my fellow inmates. I called it "City" and it was about designing an archology. I didn't let on, even to myself, what my influences were--I spent all my money on architecture books--but in retrospect it was all about Paolo. In the 70s, there was a lot of cutting edge thought about the destruction to cities that had been caused by cars. But Soleri was the one describing what a city could be.
So I was amazed many years later to realize that the nowhere desert that my Mom had moved to was just a few miles from Arcosanti. We visited last year. We got the tour from a vibrant enthusiastic young woman. The buildings were aging concrete, which is of course quite unfashionable these days. But they had done some cool things with it, like impregnating pigments and forming beautiful arches and half domes turned towards the sun. And despite Paolo's emphasis on ecology, the truth is concrete is quite CO2 intensive. But the community spirit was very nice. I could imagine living there, if it wasn't in the middle of nowhere. Soleri had always envisioned a much bigger, faster growing place, but the people who are there are smart and idealistic. I saw a poster advertising that pretty young women could pose for Paolo to draw them, and they would be paid by getting to keep one of the drawings. So I guess he built a sweet life for himself.
So any cult of personality must do some reflection when their charismatic leader is gone. I hope they do well. The willingness to experiment in city building is an admirable goal.
posted by bitslayer at 5:29 AM on May 31, 2013

I could imagine living there, if it wasn't in the middle of nowhere.

The crazy part is that today, it really isn't. Phoenix has sprawled so far to the north that Arcosanti is only about a 20 minute drive away from the suburbs- movie theaters, In N Out, Walmart, huge parking lots, stucco mini-mansions. All built for people who spend at least 1-2 hours commuting in their cars every day.

I'm sure Soleri really loved that.
posted by Old Man McKay at 5:53 AM on May 31, 2013

Isn't Arcosanti like five buildings? Do people actually live there? How many? Looking at it in Google maps it looks about the size of a thriving tool and die shop. (OK, after reading the NYT link from .kobayashi's post, those questions are to some extent answered. But I'm curious whether there's anything city-like about it. It seems about as far from an arcology as can be.)
posted by rodii at 6:08 AM on May 31, 2013

Some of his stuff just clearly straddles that "madness/genius" line. Awesome.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:09 AM on May 31, 2013

That Wired article is very good.

In retrospect, my attraction to Soleri’s drawings of crisp, perfect cities now seems obvious. In my smudged excerpt of his work I couldn’t make out his caveat that ”a warning is necessary for the student. The graphics are not to be taken literally. The symbolism is evident and… the complexity of the system would in any case preclude the possibility of well-thought-out detail in the general context in which this book should remain.

posted by bukvich at 6:26 AM on May 31, 2013

In one of our many Colorado/Utah/New Mexico/Arizona Spring Break road trips, we stopped at Arcosanti. We stayed in what I remember was called The Sky Room. It had lots of windows and space and our 13-year old daughter who is now 21 has idyllic memories of the place. Our Arcosanti bell rings when Denver is breezy, and it sounds like beauty.

In my mind, I would like to retire in the place that was in Soleri's mind. I would play the piano, read books, talk to other interesting people, and wander alone in the perfect desert.

Ah, well.
posted by kozad at 6:44 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most years out of the last ten, I've gone to Arcosanti for a week-long music workshop/festival. It may be a "fragment of a dream" (in Soleri's phrase), but I love it dearly.

posted by doubtfulpalace at 12:24 PM on May 31, 2013

I love those beautiful renderings of arcologies as much as anybody. But it's concept art. And the field of concept art is full both of enormous lovely utopian cities of the future and enormous terrifying dystopian ones. Along with the beautiful desert Arcosanti shown here it's hard to keep from mentally picturing an Arcosanti Detroit, and an Arcosanti Blade Runner city with the swanky high-rises descending to the slutty street level--not to mention the C.H.U.D underground.

If you actually built one of those designed-for-people Soleri cities and let real people live in it, a lot of them wouldn't be tread-lightly-on-the-earth hippies. And in spite of that you'd have to maintain it and not let it degrade and decay. Walt Disney's original vision for EPCOT was that it would be a real functioning city with residents who weren't Disney employees and who could vote. But when the imagineers actually thought about where that might lead they got cold feet very quickly.

I can't help thinking that the natural counterpoise to Arcosanti is Kowloon Walled City. (previously). Like the pretty renderings? Here's an interesting page devoted to Art inspired by KWS. Also art, a large panorama cross-section and an even larger 3D cutaway rendering. Before I signed onto Spaceship Arcosanti I'd want to be fairly sure it wasn't going to turn into those when the toilets stop working.
posted by jfuller at 2:32 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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