His life and work (1919 – 2013)
Born in Turin, Soleri studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Turin in 1946 where he received a doctorate with highest honors. After, he moved to the United States, he was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright for a year and a half in Arizona.
In 1950 Soleri returned to Italy with his wife where he was commissioned to build Ceramica Artistica Solimene; a ceramics factory in Vietri. He adapted the ceramic industry processes learned to use in his designs and production of windbells and siltcast architectural structures.
Although Soleri designed and built homes and bridges, as time went on he turned his attention increasingly to his “arcologies”, which conceptually addresses the interrelationship between architecture and ecology. Soleri complied 30 arcologies in his book, Arcology: The City in the Image of the Man (1969). This featured intricately-rendered cities of the future where people would live, work and play in harmonious self-sufficiency. Arcologies are self-contained, vertically layered megabuildings that combined living, working and natural environments into condensed superorganisms.
Soleri called for a “highly integrated and compact three-dimensional urban form that is the opposite of urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy and time tending to isolate people from each other and the community”.
Putting his ideas into motion, Soleri bought land overlooking the Agua Fria River, 70 miles north of Phoenix. This was the start of Arcosanti. Soleri spent most of his career trying to build an eco-Utopia in the desert planned for 5,000 people in 1970. His vision was originally designed to be 20 stories high which supported a study center for experimental workshops and performing arts. The construction was assisted by student volunteers from all over the world to help provide a model demonstrating Soleri’s concept of Arcology.
Arcosanti struggled to attract residents, reaching a peak population of about 200 in the mid-1970s. There are fewer than 60 permanent residents of the town, but thousands of students and tourists still arrive at Soleri’s “urban laboratory” each year to learn more about the architect’s ideas and methods.
He retired from the project in 2011, leaving the continuation of Arcosanti to Jeff Stein, an architect from Boston. Soleri then passed away two years later. As an architect, urban designer, artist, craftsman, and philosopher, Soleri has influenced many in search of a new paradigm for our built environment.