Arcology of Love, The Work of Paolo Soleri

by Doctress Neutopia

December 1986


 

 
 

Suzi Gablik defines the artist as a shaman, a mystic and a healer, whose purpose is to lead people into a truer relationship with the Cosmos.1 The artist-shaman makes art that connects us to sacred sources. An artist-shaman can create new art forms as well as new forms of living. I think that the architect Paolo Soleri fits Gablik's definition of artist as a true creator. He tried to return people to sacred sources and to congruence with nature through his philosophy and architecture.

The Importance of Arcology

To achieve congruence with nature, Soleri proposes a way of living and building. His designs new cities, called arcologies, place architecture, the human abode, within ecology, the planetary abode.2 Arcologies take many forms and try to respond to environmental, technological, political, social, and economic and cultural issues.

Soleri has designed various kinds of arcologies to respond to the different sites and climates. Some float in the sea using the ocean's resources while others are built into cliffs or out in space. Self-contained, singular objects, arcologies are efficient machines in which to live. They produce a minimum of waste and pollution by working with the natural environment. Energized by the sun, infrared sun rays filter through the roofs of greenhouses adjacent to an arcology and increase the arcologies's temperature as much as fifty degree F in winter. The greenhouse also feeds the city. Soleri writes, "The basic shape of the city itself acts as a sun collector in the winter and a giant awning in summer."3 Additionally, arcologies are densely organized and conserve land: a three dimensional arcology covers a fraction of the land of a comparably populated flat city. It returns nine-tenths of the land surface normally consumed by horizontal cities to wilderness. Soleri thinks we need a "flight from flatness" which will free people for the limited surface of the Earth's topography.

To flee from flatness, arcology encourages three-dimensional evolution: upward for the living, downward for the automated services and production. Soleri divides city activities into two categories: service-maintenance and the productive-leisure. Arcologies separate these functions through vertical layering. Each layer is ten feet above the next and provides spaces for planning, organizing, urbanizing and humanizing. In creating a three dimensional arcology, the architect makes a new landscape which corresponds to the needs of thousands of people. In an arcology fewer service-maintance people are needed, so the bureaucratic machinery is reduced to a fraction of the former size of horizontal cities. Arcologies use labor saving machinery. Robots might enable people to spend more time with each other as well as pursue scientific research, do exercises, make art, etc. The world within an arcology calls for a new definition of work and new social order.

One of the most appealing aspects of arcology life for me is the new and more direct relationship it has to both country life and urban life. There is easy access to facilities, cultural stimulation and direct contact with people. There is also direct, quick connection to nature, open spaces, clean air, and the isolation of country life. In an arcology of a million people, an individual can be fifteen minutes walking time in conjunction with horizontal, vertical, and angular pedestrian transit systems, to any part of the city. Soleri wants to return us to a walking species. The elevator will be used to move heavy materials from place to place. Soleri thinks the elevator is an excellent means of transport. But to travel long-distances from one arcology to another, individuals will travel by plane or by high-speed trains.

Soleri believes the good city is a center where awareness levels are risen by audiovisual, printed, or electronic inform- ation as well as by human contact. In an arcology, a person has the swiftest way of receiving this information. He says that knowledge-wisdom is transferred through this information network. The arcology becomes the city of love when such knowledge/wisdom is used and the "ensuing condition is the transcendence into creation". 4 A resident of an arcology is able to enlarge her or his personal awareness by being part of an environment which encourages self-education and has direct means to access the world- wide communication technologies.

The city is meant to be the most comprehensive structure for learning, guiding people to greater sensibility and creativity. Transforming communities into ecologically oriented cityscapes is crucial for our future. To do this Soleri believes the media must be consumed with messages on how to go about accomplishing this extraordinary task. Soleri believes "the city is a necessary instrument for the evolution of the human spirit."5 He envisions arcologies as living, open universities, open to all ages of people. Every part of an arcology is part of the university. Every arcology will to part of the world wide web of arcologies.

Influences on Soleri

I feel the time has come to build miniaturized cities in order our time to continue on Earth. Soleri is not the first to come up with the idea of organic megastructures -- or what Soleri considers ministructures. Drawing on the work of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, Soleri proposes a new type of megastructure. Le Corbusier tried to establish new standards of ethical and physical well-being through his proposals. He questioned the underlying motivations of society and its architecture. He used his buildings and vision to organize society into complex patterns of activity. He viewed architecture as a biological organism that had vertical and horizontal circulation. Le Corbusier thought that harmony among people, nature and the cosmos was the key to a new architecture. His theoretical "Radiant City" is primarily horizontal and, therefore, less radical than Soleri's arcology.

Wright believed that building on the land is natural to people, and architecture is people in possession of the earth. He viewed architecture as organic in nature. Although Soleri apprenticed with Wright from 1947-8, they formed very different notions of urban and organic natures. Wright saw form and function as united and conceived of art, religion, and science united in service of the Democratic Ideal, what he called the "gospel of individuality." 6 Wright's Broadacre City consists of giving acreage plots to every man, woman, and child. Each plot would be connected together by the automobile. Wright believe that democracy was destroy by overcrowding and densely populated urban environments.

For Soleri's buildings are organic in a different since than those of Wright since Soleri hopes his arcologies is organic in order to "serve the urban effect." 7 To explain this further, Soleri sees then sprawling city of Phoenix as a megastructure. He writes, "If they [ministructures] happen to be more visible in the landscape because they're tall and stratified, that doesn't change the fact that they occupy only a fraction of the volume or consume a fraction of energy used in Phoenix."8

For Soleri, greed, bigotry, fear and the bewilderment of the machine are the great pollutants. Affluence is the quiet greed that corrupts the land and the human soul. Affluence is often mistakenly equated with happiness, yet affluence-opulence for all would mean the death of all for the "biosphere could not accept a debacle of such proportion" 9. I agree with Soleri's viewpoint; the quiet greed is a destructive, false myth. If everyone was able to obtain the "American Dream" of a luxury car, house with an acre of land, and several children, the USA would be covered with cement. Soleri writes,

If we take care of our environment because such care is imposed by edict, the result might be order in appearance, death in substance. If we take care of only that portion of our environment which we own, the environment will be like a sea of litter and dread dotted with small island utopias whose segregated order is the true origin of chaos. This is a pretty close description of the urban-suburban situation today. If we take care of the environment because we have a sense reverence toward it, then the reverential fire will make the environment glow with the embers of the spirit. 10

I believe that exposing the affluence myth is the most important task facing educators, for if this myth continues, the world will certainly experience an environmental death. Wealth and determination will not change the destruction of land. Soleri states it requires a move away from materialism, arrogance and determinism, and a move towards the sacramentality of all things. We must stop worshipping the production-consumption system which produces products which are harmful and useless to humanity. We also have to stop participating in it.

Soleri sees ownership as being outside the evolutionary process. We cannot interiorize what we own, therefore ownership does not help in the process of etherealization or spiritualization. We can only interiorize what we know, so that education and the transfer of information must be made a vital aspect of an arcology. Soleri believes our media now is a wasteland, our technology not helping to transform society. The most we can hope for in the existing cities is the maintenance of the status quo. For Soleri, suburbia is a place of non-action, having no intellectual pressure. He says that there cannot be a true regard of future generations "when the most important index of well-being of a nation is measured by the gross national product." 11

One of the major reasons why our complex world is a place of lonely inactivity and environmental despair is due to the car. The car and its paraphernalia takes up 50-60 percent of urban topography. Soleri explains that the car isolates and segregates our species into "uniformed dullness and dumbness." He thinks the car could possibly be the greatest villain of all times. I feel Soleri is more than just in condemning the car. The planet's ozone layer has recently been discovered as having holes in it caused in part by car air conditioners. Ancient art works are being destroyed by acid rain caused by car exhaust. We are witnessing a culture being killed by the car! There are many other things that are causing environmental destruction, and we as a species are doing most of it. Soleri writes,

Practical man [sic] thinks nothing of driving ten miles to get a carton of beer...Real man [sic] knows that out of billions and billions of such trips, day in, day out, the earth is becoming less livable, the sky becomes less and less and less clear, the seas less and less healthy, the energy sources of the earth are depleted, nations are at each others throats, etc., etc. 12

The Governance of Arcology

As far as our existing government is concerned, Soleri thinks we live in a "mirage of freedom," because our democracy is a government of license. We have a democracy of mediocrity ("mediocracy" is a word coined by Frank Lloyd Wright) which is wasteful and incapable of frugality. Capitalist democracy is dangerous because it is run by consumer demands.

In the writings I read by Soleri, I could not discover what form of government he thought would be the best for arcologies. He rejects democracy, government by the people, so I surmise that he would want a government by juno (the word used to describe female genius) and genius. I believe the best form of government in an arcology would be a combination of democracy and meritocracy, or what has been called a spiritual democracy, governance by virtue and talent. We could determine who these people are through the educational process. Since an arcology would be the most comprehensive structure for learning, residents of an arcology would have equal opportunity in creating leadership positions.

Only through structure and design does Soleri address political issues. William Irwin Thompson writes in his book, _Passages about Earth: an Exploration of the New Planetary Culture_, "If Soleri were to accomplish all that he wishes, he would have to be Frank Lloyd Wright, Gandhi, and Aurobindo in one man. Soleri is a very impressive human being; he has both genius and guts, but he is an abbot and not a messiah" 13. Thompson points out that transformation occurs through creating a new culture, not through creating works of art or architecture. He writes, "Soleri is a Michelangelo, the expressor of a culture rather than the creator of one. But first things must come first. First comes the re-visioning of the universe in Christianity, then comes the Sistine Chapel and the B Minor Mass" 14.

Soleri does not consider himself a revolutionary nor a utopian. He believes in evolutionary radicalism. For him congruence is the first question, not justice and liberty. I must disagree with Soleri here. Without justice and liberty, there cannot be congruence. Arcology will never be built when national economies compete with each other for markets and natural resources. Consequently, the first order of change is to revolutionize our way of thinking so we may evolve into an arcological cooperative economy. What we need, then, is a lovolution, a non-violent, spiritual revolution, the evolution of revolution, a world movement for collective freedom. The main focus of a lovolutionary governance is to direct the metamorphose of contemporary society into an arcological world.

From other writings, Soleri seems to understand the need for radical thought. To become a post-affluent society, Soleri says we must radicalize our thinking. He writes, "The soul is in desperate search for a structure, for a shelter, for a home, in fact for a topography". 15 Soleri feels he has the key to this new topography, showing us the guidelines for a renaissance of society. To achieve this spiritual genesis, Soleri states our "first priority is the etherealization of free enterprise, freeing of "free enterprise" from greed, hypocrisy, bigotry, fanaticism, and intolerance" 16.

Building Arcosanti

Since 1970, Soleri has been working on building Arcosanti. It is not an arcology, but a base camp to house 500 to 600 people. Income to build it comes from sale of bells, workshoppers and visitors' fees, Soleri's books and lectures, and rare small grants. Arcosanti is about 3% of the way constructed. It is intended to be a town-laboratory. Labor to build Arcosanti is mostly donated by workshoppers who come to Arcosanti for five weeks. The first week Soleri and his leaders hold seminars about his philosophy and for the remaining month the workshoppers take up the construction work. Construction at Arcosanti is innovative, using river silt as a sculptural, texturizing forming material for concrete form-building. There is a 5,000-person arcology proposed for Arcosanti, yet it has not been begun.

Soleri's main objective has not been in forming community. For him, Arcosanti is a construction site, not a community. Soleri's role is that of an artist who is creating the ultimate sculpture by reinventing the city, when the real need of our times is to create the new social relationships that the possibilities of building arcologies would allow us to create. At Arcosanti, Soleri makes most of the decisions. He is the one and only genius. Therefore, it is very difficult at Arcosanti for people who are community builders to do their vital function in making the urban experiment happen.

From the architectural plans in Soleri's book _Arcology: City in the Image of Man[sic]_ it is impossible for one to discover that kind of personal living arrangements--the social architecture- -the arcologists would have. In other words, Soleri has not given us the blueprints of a new social architecture. Will the living quarters be predominately for traditional nuclear families or same sex families? Will children have separate areas away from their biological parents? Will couples live together or will each individual their own personal space? Will people with more social influence have more desirable spaces than others or would the spaces be of equal desirability? How would one be issued a space? Would it be through inheritance or through community lottery? How will arcology bring us out of the social diseases of sexism, classism, racism, and ageism? These are difficult questions for any architect to answer, but they are essential in designing living spaces for people in an arcology.

Soleri does not have the financial resources to create an arcology. He estimates that it would take a half billion dollars and maybe 20 more years of construction labor to complete Arcosanti. Soleri does not have the personality nor the will to "deal with mortgage brokers and venture capitalists, innately unable to beg and solicit at cocktail-party fundraisers, thoroughly unsuited for foundation grants and rich widow's handouts" 17. He even stated that he just doesn't know how to speak the language that they need to raise the money--the business language.

I feel I have been searching for a home, greater than the opportunities than traditional shelter can offered to me. I have evolved beyond the "Dream House" and I long to live in an alive city, live with the reverence of life. I long for a city where my human needs are met equally with other people and my creative ideas have space for actualization, a city which is in congruence with nature. In many ways through Soleri's ideas I have seen my home. I have found the loving arcology. John Poppy in his article "Home, Sweet Home, 2001-Style," quotes Soleri, "What I am proposing is to alter part of the American dream -- in physical terms, the Home, Sweet Home, the car in every garage. That implies a diminution of the consumerist flair of this society. It demands frugality. Investors don't find guarantees of a return in what I say." 18.

Soleri's Critics

Some critics think he is "the high priest of gobbledygook, whereas for others he comes as a prophet from the desert". 19 His visions are usually said to be pipe dreams. He is almost unknown to the public and remains an outsider. Wall writes, "Books on urbanism rarely mention his name, even those written in America about American cities even though Soleri represents American's sole version of international megaformalism" 20. Wall thinks that of yet no one knows what role density plays in diseases like stress and mental illness. He continues, " The only way to see if we can live peacefully in dense areas is to experiment. Soleri is doing it". 21 Another critic, Salah El-Shakls writes about Soleri's ideas, "Arcologies presents a challenge to traditional ways of thinking about cities". 22

David Greene calls Soleri's arcologies the Navaho-da-Vinci-Disney dreamland. Greene says that Soleri's book _Arcology, city in the Image of Man_ and Wall's book _Visionary Cities, the Arcology of Paolo Soleri_ could be the "biggest architectural hype of all times". 23 Greene thinks Soleri acts in the fashion of the holy-rollers and has merely a "passionate desire to make the city a sculptural object with reference to his own styling preferences."24 Greene is skeptical of ministructures and thinks Wall is seduced by Soleri's drawings.

In an interview conducted by Shipsky it is stated that Soleri "understands life only on a biological level and reduces it to a bare minimum. His will to power disturbs me. His attitude toward man and nature follows the line of Kant, Nietzsche, Marx. He intends to use ecology to dominate nature for man's ends". 25

Soleri seems to understand his harsh critics. He says that the good city, the city of an architecture of ecology bears radical fruit. For people who feel that "the world is his own private hunting ground," 26 the fruit it bears is bitter, but for people who feel there is such a thing as a theological component to her/his significance, it is an exhilarating fruit. I feel it is an exhilarating fruit one which I grasp to pick from the tree of life. It does not bother me that an arcology would mean that only one architect would be its creator as long as the architect has wisdom. There is an estimated three million individuals who are homeless and in desperate need of a good place to live. It should be our guaranteed right to have a beautiful, compassionate, ecologically sound, secure and free place to live. Even though at this time I can afford moderate housing, I live without a home, striving to help bring into reality the arcology of love.


End Notes

1. Suzi Gablik, 1984.

2. Paolo Soleri

3. AIA Journal 1976, 72.

4. Paolo Soleri 1981, 76.

5. Arconsanti pamphlet 1987.

6. Wright 1958, 27.

7. Shipsky 1982, 36.

8. Progessive Architecture 3.91.

9. Soleri 1973, 181.

10. Soleri 1981, 229.

11. Soleri 1981, 107.

12. Soleri 1973, 214.

13. Thompson 1973, 52.

14. Thompson 1973, 3.

15. Soleri 1973, 179.

16. Soleri 1973, 202.

17. Frommer 1988.

18. Longevity May, 1991.

19. Wall 1970.

20. Wall 1970.

21. Wall 1970.

22. Sharpe 1971, 544.

23. Greene 1971, 433.

24. Greene 1971, 434.

25. Shipsky 1982, 36.

26. Soleri 1981, 243.


Bibliography

Cook, Jeffrey. Review _Journal of the Society of Architectural
Historians_, Vol. 31, March 1972.

El-Shakhs, Salah. Review _Journal of the American Institute of
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Frommer, Arthur. "A Pilgrimage to Arcosanti" New World of Travel,
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Gablik, Suzi. _Has Modernism Failed?_ New York: Thames and Hudson,
1984.

Greene, David. "Blast from the Past" _Architectural Design_,
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Poppy, John. "Home, Sweet Home, 2001-Style." _Longevity_, May
1991.

Progressive Architecture. 3.91

Sharpe, Dennis. Review _RIBA Journal_. Vol. 78, Dec. 1971.

Shipsky, James. "Diary of an Arcosanti Experience" _AIA Journal_,
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Soleri, Paolo. _Arcology: The City in the Image of Man_.
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----------. _The Bridge Between Matter and Spirit is Matter
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----------. _The Omega Seed an Eschatological Hypothesis_.
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----------. "Utopia and /or Revolution" _Perspecta: The Yale
Architectural Journal_, no.13-14, 1971, pps. 281-5.

Soleri's Solar City: Collector and Awning _AIA Journal_,
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Thompson, William Irwin. _Passages about Earth: an Exploration of
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Wright, Frank Lloyd. _The Living City_. New York: Mentor Book,
1958.

 

 
 

 

 

 
 
Human Extinction or Lovolution ?