Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri (21 June 1919 – 9 April 2013) made his name as a countercultural icon and urban visionary, best known for his theory of “arcology”—a combination of architecture and ecology—and for Arcosanti, the prototype town in the Arizona desert which embodied his ideals and became his life’s work, which he founded in 1970 and continued to work on right up until his death in 2013.
Born in Turin, Italy, Soleri gained his master’s degree from the Politecnico di Torino in 1946, traveling to the USA shortly afterward to study under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. In 1948, Soleri gained international attention after his design for the “Beast Bridge” was included in Elizabeth Mock’s book “The Architecture of Bridges,” published by the Museum of Modern Art.
Soleri moved his family to Arizona in 1956, and in 1970 he began construction on his life’s work, Arcosanti. For four decades, Soleri oversaw the construction of his experimental city, with construction almost entirely carried out by over 6,000 volunteers who have, at some point over the project’s forty-years, lived at the city and learned from Soleri. Much of the construction was created using “earth casting,” a process developed by Soleri in which concrete elements are cast using the ground as formwork.
Today, Arcosanti consists of 13 buildings and, at any one time, houses around 100 people—far short of Soleri’s vision of 5,000 citizens. However, despite his death the Arcosanti project continues, funded by the Cosanti Foundation which Soleri established in 1965—which is in turn funded in part by the sale of Soleri-designed ceramic and bronze wind-bells.
Soleri’s affinity with Frank Lloyd Wright is clear from his ecologically-focused countercultural ideology; however, whereas Wright’s utopian design for Broadacre City proposed urban sprawl, Arcosanti is a proposal for the opposite: an “urban implosion” where cities are incredibly dense and rural areas are left untouched. This is the materialization of Soleri’s theories of arcology.
Soleri is remembered not just for his remarkable designs but also for his proposals of an alternative way of life. Find out more about him via the links below: