Since 1970, the Cosanti Foundation, a non profit organization that runs Arcosanti, has hosted thousands of students and professionals that have journeyed to Arcosanti to participate in seminars, conferences and workshops conducted by Soleri and his staff. The Colly Soleri Music Center, named after Paolo’s wife Colly, offers a program of performing artist from around the world of the highest talents. Perched high on a mesa in the desert above a majestic canyon, Arcosanti has abundant views with a beautiful stream running through the canyon to a large pond surrounded by lush landscape on 25 acres of a 4,000 acre preserves, all owned by the Cosanti Foundation.
Arcosanti is like a giant futuristic ecology camp, very romantic in it’s ideas and concepts by Paolo Soleri, the great dreamer, architect, artist, and philosopher. While I was on my visit to Arcosanti I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffery Buderer, one of Construction & Agriculture Dept. staff members of Arcosanti at the time. He was willing to give me a personal and most interesting tour of Arcosanti on his free time. He showed me the back views of the vast acres of beautiful land surrounding Arcosanti that few tourist ever see. He introduced me to some of the people living and working in Arcosanti. I enjoyed my tour and conversations with Jeff and all his vast, long experiences of working and living at Arcosanti for some years.
The creator of Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri, at the time I made this journey to Arcosanti in October 2011, was in poor health at the age of 91. With some concerns in my spirit about Arcosanti and Paolo, I asked Jeffery Buderer what he thought the future of Arcosanti would be like without Paolo Soleri. I wanted to have Jeff share with me what his views on the future of Arcosanti would be, in his opinion of course. I respected him and his thoughts on this subject since he was and had been working and living at Arcosanti for so many years. In an email that was sent to me after I had left Arcosanti, this is what jeff communicated: “I do feel like it is a special moment in the development of Arcosanti in that if the right steps are taken we can move more rapidly towards the larger vision, but significant changes need to be made as we discussed during our meeting and conversations while you were here at Arcosanti.” Then Jeff continued with more thoughts on this subject of what was to become of Arcosanti after Paolo Soleri had passed. He continued with: “I think the future doesn’t exist — Focus on now. That would be my evolution of Paolo’s thinking. We need not worry about the future so much, it will work itself out. Rather we need to learn how to be the best we can every moment of our lives. Yet, Arcosanti focused on this future point when there would be 5000 people living and working here. From my perspective, that is exactly what Soleri said not to do. So then people come and wonder what is going to happen, because the lofty vision does not seem to connect with the state of what things are now. So yes, the future does not exist, because our ability to change it is limited by the proportion of time that we focus on it in the absence of doing things right now that matter in our lives.”
Paolo Soleri in 1947, at the age of 28, came to America from Torin, Italy to become a student of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright at Wright’s Arizona school of architecture, Talisen West. In 1948, Paolo’s first residential commission, in collaboration with Mark Mils, was the famous Dome House in Cave Creek, Arizona. This house was known as the Woods House for the woman who would later become his mother in-law after he married (Colly Woods) the client’s daughter. This house design implemented all the talents of Paolo’s imaginative and artistic mind as well as the ecologic inventions that would become his trademark in architecture. The property is now owned by the Cosanti Foundation. Cosanti Foundation Co-Founder Colly Woods Soleri, with Paolo Soleri in 1965, launched the Cosanti Foundation. This nonprofit educational institution’s major project has been the building of Arcosanti as the alternative urban prototype. Paolo’s simple philosophy was taking on the idea of using less and enjoying life instead of competing for profit that seemingly destroys people’s lives rather then enhancing their lives with a better healthy way of living.
After my wonderful stay at Arcosanti on a Sunday afternoon, I got into my car and raced through the desert back to where Paolo was living his last days out at his home and studio, Cosanti, in Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Arizona. I was not sure what I would find but I knew in my heart that I just had to meet him and perhaps be blessed to be able to have a conversation with him one last time. Arriving in time to Cosanti, just before closing of his studios and gift shop, I was able to see this amazing old Italian looking man with a cane coming into the gift shop at the end of the day to say hello to his staff and check on the day’s profits from selling wind bells, books, T-shirts, and sculptures (which I happily purchased many that day in delight)! So my reward for following my good instincts was a little chat with a warm Italian architect and artist who still had a great smile of achievement on his face. This 91 year old hero of mine, was such an inspiration to me on that day and with all that I had all ready experienced, it was the icing on the cake! He spoke with a charming italian accent in a soft voice I could barely hear. So I drew close to him and heard his words of wisdom in my ear and in my heart. I asked him if he was still swimming in his pool, and he said that he used to swim every morning, but now he cannot swim anymore because of his health issues he was dealing with. I told him that I missed him at the Different Skies concert at Arcosanti and that I had seen him just the year before at the concert. He said that the great part of Arcosanti is that so many people from all over the world each can enjoy the beauty of it. No matter what their different interests are, they come together and have Arcosanti as a common interest, in harmony, as he had designed Arcosanti to be. Paolo told me that he felt very weak and that he was getting on in years and didn’t know how much longer he would be here on this earth. I told him not to worry that my Italian grandfather lived to 98 years of age! I said to Paolo, to be strong and know that you have some more time left. He smiled at me and said to me in a whisper of a voice, “OK, I will continue on to create in my mind, even now in my life”. He continued to say that what had keep him going all these years was that every night, before he would go to sleep, he would think of what he was going to create the next day. That is what keep him going all his years. It was such a pleasure and great honor to be able to meet and speak with Paolo Soleri, the creator of Arcosanti.
Soleri took a position of living in his very special dream from 1970 untill he died on April 9th, 2013. Arcosanti is a matter of debate in the architectural community even today. One thing that cannot be denied is that Soleri’s architectural designs have influenced the world and is a significant contribution to all artist and architects among us. Italian architect, Renzo Piano, winner of the Pritzker Prize, architect’s highest honor, wrote: “For me and all the other architects from my generation, he has been a great push, utopian and realistic at the same time, only now we understand how fragile earth is. He figured it out 50 years ago! All our work takes inspiration from those early institutions. ” Today much of the work of modernist architects is derivative of Soleri. Paolo Soleri called the vision “Arcology” a word he invented, combining architecture and ecology. Paolo Soleri’s quote on his dream: ” People are who they are. It takes time.”
As I took the long drive back home to California from the Arizona desert, I was watching the sun setting over the mountain ranges like the ending of a good old western movie. I had this blissful good feeling inside that I had accomplish all that I set out to do, yet I felt my heart pulling inside just a little bit. A tugging, pulling me back to the fantastic place that I was leaving. The place that had contained all my childhood hopes and dreams of the future—Acrocanti. I knew in my heart that I would go back again.
by Mark G. Picascio
Special thanks to Annalisa Capurro, Design Educator
Read more about Arcosanti: PART ONE: “Arcosanti, One Man’s Dream Lives On”