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Obituary: Paolo Soleri (1919 - 2013)

Pioneering Italian-born green architect and environmentalist Paolo Soleri has died at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, aged 93

Paolo Soleri, renowned for his Arcosanti experimental city in the Arizona desert, has died at his home in Paradise Valley, aged 93.

Born in Turin in June 1919, Soleri studied at the Polytechnic University of Turin, graduating in 1946. In 1947 he moved to the United States and spent 18 months as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West.

Soleri settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the majority of his work was completed in the south-west of the United States with the notable exception of the remarkable Artistica Ceramica Solimene ceramics factory in Vietri, Italy.

He conceived of Arcosanti, an experimental eco-town in Arizona (pictured below), in 1970 as an antithesis to suburban sprawl. The high-density, car-free project was part-built and funded by thousands of international student volunteers. Originally proposed for 5,000 people, the settlement reached a peak of 200 inhabitants in the 1970s and is now home to less than 60.

Arcosanti

Source: Cody R

His philosophy, which he called Arcology (formed by combining the words ‘architecture’ and ‘ecology’) promoted low-energy building in an era of cheap energy when green design was yet to break into mainstream architecture.

Reporting on Soleri’s 1979 RIBA lecture, the AJ described him as a ‘prophet of the need for a reappraisal of resource use for over 20 years, long before it became fashionable; indeed many of the difficulties of his early years were due to the then failure to acknowledge the need for a review of energy use.’

Yasmin Shariff, principal of Dennis Sharp Architects and a friend of Soleri, said: ‘He was a pioneer and, like many pioneers, his ideas weren’t taken up because they were far ahead of their time.

‘He inspired thousands of people through his workshops. It is a great disappointment that those ideas have not been widely adopted. Maybe with his death those ideas should be rekindled.

‘Arcosanti was a very special thing in the middle of the desert. He was, perhaps, a little too adventurous. Maybe his sandals and sincerity were too much for people.’

Soleri was awarded an honorary RIBA fellowship in 1996, an AIA Gold Medal for craftsmanship in 1963 and in 2000 won a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

He is survived by two daughters, Kristine and Daniela.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Yasmin Shariff

    Soleri's ideas about cities are the solution to today's problems of too much trash, too little energy, too much alienation and isolation. The arcology concept (architecture+ecology) looked as social, economic and environmental issues holistically and in an integrated way. Arcosanti and Cosanti are rooted in the environmental movement of the 60s. The idea of the arcologies were that they were to be energy neutral. The city was fed with greenhouses on the lower slopes so that food and energy could rise and nourish the upper areas. Like enormous termite mounds the city keeps to an ideal temperature for all the workers that inhabit it. Recycling and efficient resource use was also at the heart of the arcology- especially the toilets where if it was yellow you let it mellow and if it was brown you flush it down- an immediate 10 fold saving!!!

    But it wasn't all about materials there was an equally strong social and spiritual/humanitarian concerns that informed the design. Imagine a city that is so connected that the need for institutional buildings become unnecessary. The power of IT makes it all the more possible and I have no doubt that arcologies are the answer to the urgent need in rapidly urbanising countries. Can Governments/local authorities make this imaginative leap?

    Paolo was truly inspirational. Building Arcosanti with the income generated from bells is remarkable. It hosts festivals and workshops and has a great real food cafe. He may not have achieved his ambition to build an arcology but he certainly changed the hearts and minds of thousands.

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