History of Utopian Founder Paolo Soleri Part 1

About utopian founder Paolo Soleri, history and biography of the creator of the utopia Arcosanti.



Rising out of the Arizona desert is a vertical city, a utopia in the making: Arcosanti. The concept of one man, Paolo Soleri, it incorporates what he believes in--natural forms, preservation of the environment, the "miniaturized" city all in one skin, and the idea that humans must transcend themselves. Arcosanti is undeniably a miraculous happening. The miracle is not so much in the concept, no matter how far ahead of its time, but in its reality; Arcosanti has not remained a mere idea captured in one of Soleri's butcher-paper notebooks, but is actually coming to be. However much the poetic dreamer, Soleri is also a hardheaded master builder, who has surrounded himself with believers--believers who are willing to move earth and pour concrete to create a utopia.

He was born and raised in Italy, where he served in the camouflage corps of Mussolini's army during W.W.II and later received his doctorate in architecture with highest honors from the Torino Politecnico. After that, he became an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona. The stormy relationship between the dictatorial, brilliant master and his iconoclastic, brilliant student lasted only two years; however, Wright's influence is evident in Soleri's buildings.

Following a brief return to Italy, where he designed a ceramics factory, Soleri came back to the Arizona desert and began to build earth houses from desert materials. Then, too, he began to envision cities, which he called arcologies (from architecture and ecology), some more than a mile high, some out in space beyond the earth.

His huge notebooks of drawings--conceptions of communities that look like anthills or beehives or magnified human cells--include poetic explanations of the philosophy that lies behind them. In those explanations, he uses words and phrases he has coined to express what may never have been expressed before--"homosphere," "neomatter," "auspicable reach," "organism of 1,000 minds," "asphalt nightmare," "megapoly."

In 1961 Soleri founded the Cosanti Foundation, a combination school, studio, and community. Nine years later he began building a less-than-life-size model arcology. Then in 1972 he started Arcosanti, a full-sized, functional city. There, he moves among the student-workers, working himself and making suggestions, a dark, slight, deep-eyed, ageless man in T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. Once the city is built, he says, he plans to leave it, his task done, so that others can realize in it a new utopia. Perhaps, he adds, joking, he will go to Bermuda.

Arcosanti is financed by the wind-bells Soleri designs and produces, by donations from twice-daily tours through the site, and by tuition from the six-week work camps run during part of the year.

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