Returned to Italy in a small town on the Amalfi Coast, Vietri sul Mare, he has an interesting opportunity: the possibility of designing one of his organic creations, unfortunately few in his native land, the ceramic factory ‘Solimene'. The undulating and sinuous building, as carved into the rock and overlooking the sea, covered by an attractive thermal insulating membrane formed by the pattern of circular bases of waste amphorae and vases, in simple terracotta or in a copper green color glazed, still remains today as an exceptional testimony of “an architecture that screams the craft made by hands”. Sculptor and artist particularly fascinated by ceramics, he learns its processing techniques, always maintaining a passionate involvement in craftsmanship.
A long period of time has passed since the experience in Taliesin West, more than 20 years, and, from that abrupt rift with his mentor, the apprentice is now at an advanced stage of his path. Paolo Soleri disagrees with Wright’s vision for the American city: a sprawling suburb, with low-rise single-use buildings, devouring land and resources, with strong dependence on the car, a model that appears to him as a real “engine for consumption”. On several occasions he declares his disappointment and proposes a radical reorganization as an alternative to that urban expansion, which spreads horizontally like a wildfire, greedily absorbing energy, invading and erasing all traces of green nature. “Cities only a few stories high, stretching outward in unwieldy sprawl for miles. As a result, they literally transform the earth; turning farms into parking lots, wasting enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods, & services over their expanses”.
To this waste of earth and energy, he finds the solution in implosion, as a grouping of all the various disintegrated and exploded dimensions. Like nature, the city must be organic, it must be based on the same operating principles of biological organisms, tracing their internal coherence and the ability to harmoniously adapt to the environment: large animal communities, such as bees or ants, can be the models to follow. This contraction can only occur by rethinking the space according to a three-dimensional urban development, articulated in height, capable of favoring social relations and community work. “In nature, as an organism evolves it increases in complexity and it also becomes a more compact or miniaturized system. Similarly a city should function as a living system". The tall and multifunctional buildings will determine a concentrated city, where people will not have to travel great distances to meet, and will drastically reduce the use of cars. Architects must not limit themselves only to the contingent needs of man and the choice of materials, but aim to reach a new model paradigm of life, more in balance with nature and consequently more spiritual.
The experimental city of Arcosanti, as a prototype of arcology, intends to create an architecture harmoniously merged with ecology. A real 'urban laboratory', based on the idea of a virtuous interaction between nature and man, man and his fellow men, and on a wise use of local resources without altering the balance of an ecosystem capable of regenerating itself. A concept that hinges on a simple conduct, that must not waste anything, and exploit only those resources that can be reused. An attempt at an ideal collective life, self-financed by its own production, handcrafted in an environmentally friendly context, where each building is constructed with one’s own hands, using almost entirely local materials, where a passive energy system, which exploits solar radiation through technology and the use of highly insulating materials, is able to ensure efficiency and thermal well-being. A new urban reality that opposes a hedonistic ethic, which makes humanity believe to find happiness in consumption, rather than understanding that they will become slave of it. “The art of survival runs in the blood of a man who based his existence on the essential: ‘when I was a boy,’ he says, ‘I used to read Jack London. The one thing that impressed me was his idea of being able to survive on almost nothing. Waste has always been a sin to me’".
The philosophy of Soleri, unheard 'prophet of the desert', has never been so relevant as in these moments of urgent environmental and social crisis. Prophets, as we well know, anticipate times too distant and difficult to imagine, and their life is generally studded with bitterness and hard sacrifices. We should have listened when he repeatedly warned: "We are unable to live because we are going against nature", "the use and consumption of the land’s resources, and not its capital, is essential if we want to keep our options open for the future ". And when he finally was able to develop his idea of urbanity, sadly in a limited dimension, in his theoretical considerations all these problems have been very carefully examined and studied. The result is far from being the realization of a utopia, because as its creator-demiurge states: "utopia is a delusion, the delusion of the pursuit of perfection”. The community in Arcosanti, even if it has not grown according to Soleri’s expectations, as certain critics point out, remains an extremely significant testimony of a sustainable existence from both an environmental and social point of view. Soleri was able to share a dream, offering to those, who actively contributed in construction of this new city, a sense of belonging. Those, who participated, remember with great enthusiasm and pride, the feeling of being actively part in the creation of something important. A sensation of strong freedom and great energy animates the extremely heterogeneous community, made up of individuals, who remained permanently, forming a family with relative children and others only passing through.
Once the project had begun, there is another commendable aspect: it has been given the opportunity to set up everyday life at one’s own discretion, without deliberately interfering in anyone's private orbit. Rules had been accepted beforehand, and after that, everything depended on an individual sense of responsibility. This behavior of Soleri is not surprising, reflecting the same way he dealt with his students, towards whom he didn’t feel like a teacher-educator, limiting himself to transmit his knowledge in form of apprenticeship. "I'm not a teacher," he says. “My way is the old way of the bottega. The master works and everybody does what the master does. For me that is the only way. "
Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti, Cosanti Foundation: https://www.arcosanti.org/
Arcosanti, cover, 1-2, 4, 5 : Photo di Jessica Jameson/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation
Historical - Arcosanti 3, 6 : Photo di Ivan Pintar/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation, 8 : Photo di Annette del Zoppo/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation
Historical - Cosanti: 9 : Photo di Ivan Pintar/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation, 11, 10, 12 : Photo di Colly Soleri/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation
Paolo Soleri: Photo 13 di Stuart A. Weiner/ Courtesy of Cosanti Foundation
Sketch: Photo 14: Courtesy Archive Arcosanti/ reposted Archive FN: Arcosanti, l'utopia di Paolo Soleri
Photo 15: reposted Archive FN: Arcosanti for talk Jeff Stein, Photo of Tomiaki Tamura