Thursday, April 11, 2013

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) - An Innocent Architect

Back in the day, when I was at Michigan State studying landscape architecture and urban planning, the great architects were Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen. Bold, dramatic, controversial, and if you included Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier you could enjoy a pleasant evening of arguing and threats of bodily harm. Each had their acolytes and each carried an ego as large or larger than their buildings. Yet none came close to the imagination and utter boundless belief in architecture as habitats as Paolo Soleri, who passed away this week, he was 93.

From the Arcosanti Website:
Paolo Soleri (1919-2013), the founder of Arcosanti
Through his work as an architect, urban designer, artist, craftsman, and philosopher, Paolo Soleri has been exploring 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.
If the act of living includes the pioneering of reality through imagination and sweat, Soleri has given us more than enough food for thought in the examples he has left on paper and in the desert wind.

For a young architecture student in 1971, Soleri’s imagination was a source of boundless inspiration. I remember walking through an exhibition of his work at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art during this period of time (a spectacular traveling exhibition of his works), enthralled and frightened. His building concepts included whole cities built into a dam, massive structures where jet planes landed on the 80th floor, models and sketches that used model airplanes as set pieces to understand their scale. To this day I wonder where those models are stored – another generation of architects could use a kick in the pants by just studying these.

In the summer of 1970 I took a pilgrimage from Chicago to California and back. A coming of age thing – and it worked. A year later I was in California, newly married, and a practicing professional. How cool was that! On the trip I stopped to see the Arch in St. Louis (Saarinen), the Grand Canyon (God), Taliesin West (Wright), Los Angeles (smog was in high season), the Marin Civic Center (another Wright), and Soleri’s small encampment in Scottsdale. More than enough buildings and structures to set my malleable mind on fire.

Paolo Soleri was an Italian from Turin, he studied with Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1940s (was fired), and in 1956 he settled in Scottsdale, Arizona. Wright and the dramatic structures of the desert were to have a profound impact on this man. His career and his artistic works would take books (and they have) to fill. Take a minute and look at his Wiki site (here).

A new documentary called The Vision of Paolo Soleri in the Desert has just been released (I have not seen it), but here is the trailer.

Dreams are the molds that form our futures.

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