What is the Difference between the Bill Gates’ Mansion

 and Paolo Soleri's Prototype Arcology?

by Doctress Neutopia
July 30, 2000



In this collage, I put together two images that seemed to go together in an odd way, an image of Arcosanti, architect Paolo Soleri’s prototype arcology that he has been constructing in the Arizona desert for the past 30 years, and Bill Gates’ 50 million dollar mansion which is close to completion using the most advance technologies of the times.

Let me explain the similarities and differences between the two images of home.

In America, Paolo Soleri started out as a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. But coming to the United States and witnessing urban sprawl, he soon begin to envision a whole-systems approach to city-making that greatly contrasted to Wright’s suburban utopian dream that he wrote about in his book The Living City.

Wright was appalled with the urban centralization that has resulted in cities of poverty and pollution tied to an economic system that he thought was based on the feudal system of plutocratic Europe. In order to break free of these constrains, he thought that society should decentralize. With the use of automobiles, everyone could own his [sic] own house and acre of land. He writes, “When every man, woman, and child may be born to put his feet on his own acres and every unborn child finds his acre waiting for him when he is born—then democracy will have been realized.” For Wright, democracy meant individual sovereignty supported by a “City of Broad Acres” connecting people to the land and to each other through the automobile. His goal was to decentralize the urban areas since he thought the evils of civilization were occurring because densely populated areas disconnected people from the topography. Such centralized urban areas allowed for the accumulation of wealth by a few landlords.

City of Board Acres

The result of his utopian vision has caused the problem of urban sprawl. In sprawl, people live lives where 60% of the topography is taken over by the automobile, a culture where the average American spends two hours a day commuting to work, a world where people are isolated from each other and alienated from Nature. Soleri’s reaction to Wright’s vision was to build a prototype arcology (architecture and ecology), a pedestrian city that was built three-dimensionally so that the surrounding land could remain wilderness area, not like the two-dimension horizontal city of Wright’s Broadacre City.

Bill Gates’ mansion exemplifies an extreme result of the sovereignty of the individual. He has built a 50 million dollar single-family detached house with a parking lot garage. He has both the utopian vision of Wrights’ back-to-the-land individualism of the “American Dream” and the plutocratic feudalism of the “artificial aristocrats” that Thomas Jefferson was warning us about, the centralization of power by the wealthy few. Gates’ homestead becomes a gated retreat from community with high tech security causing it to become a private fortress for his nuclear family American dream.

Then there is Soleri’s prototypal arcology. On one hand, it is an alternative to both
Wright’s decentralized vision of the good life and Gates’ castle for the undeclared Emperor of the world. Or is it?

The text of the collage, “Gate’s mansion and Arcosanti, what is the difference?” asks if there is a difference between the two structures. Soleri is concerned with building a container rather than the social architecture. Even though Soleri is trying to create a society where the “urban effect” [the process of miniaturization, complexification, duration produces the Urban Effect. The exchange of ideas and information accelerates within the container] creates an environment where work and love come together for the betterment of society, the similarity between Gate’s mansion and Arcosanti is that as the founder of Arcosanti, Soleri, is the king of his arcology.

Because of how Arcosanti is politically structured, has been very difficult for positive economic and social development to occur. A social architecture based on a partnership society between the sexes, that is, socially conscious design for social change being alive within the revolutionary container of arcology, then the rule of patriarchy will continue to hold back a true alternative model to the sprawl. Unless Soleri’s “lean society” model is based on gender balance, and thus a new economic system has a chance to be formed where women’s work is respected, then the same old cultural habits that make women into second class citizens will continue to make it impossible for us to move beyond the single house model of the American dream.

In comparing Gates and Soleri, I realized that Gates’ house is totally based on opportunism and self interest since he is living the lifestyle of the “rich and famous,” the icon of hyperconsumerism, where as Soleri is trying to build a model that will create material equity, a “lean society,” doing more with less, that does not support the hyper consumption corporate capitalism that made Gates into the richest man in the world.

The tragedy is that if Gates could have cooperated with Soleri and given the 50 million dollars to complete the Arcosanti prototype, perhaps something great could have occurred, a model that could revolutionize human habitat with the use of advanced technologies to liberate us from manual labor. But within the current development model, the capitalists or communists who control the land and the means of production are the rulers of the castle or the arcology. If we are going to move into a better model, the assumptions that need to be challenged, is the myth of the king of the castle, male superiority.

Does being able to make a trillion dollars through computer technologies or coming up with a new architectural paradigm for evolutionary development make these men the wisest people in the world? Does money, power, and fame equal wisdom? Or is it like I suspect that wisdom is found in the two becoming one? So I asked the question on the collage: “”Man’s Castle or Wo/men’s Arcology?” A man’s castle represents the model of male dominance. Wo/men’s arcology represents the concept of erotic love being the unifying force of humankind.

Arcosanti can be seen in two ways. The first way is that since Soleri thought of a way to finance the building of Arcosanti through the sell of ceramic and bronze bells and brings in money from royalties and lectures, he should be the man in control of the project, since it is his project even though 6,000 workshoppers have helped him with the labor of the project.

The second way to see the project is to see it as an urban laboratory and experiment in human relationships as well as physical structures. The much needed social architecture can only come about if people who are laboring for the project have a say so in the way the arcology is being run.

In this view, wisdom does not come about through the accumulation of wealth or power, but through a social system that allows a synergetic form of power sharing. Soleri would not be seen as the only visionary genius of Arcosanti. Others could match and complement his creative expressions and virtuous deeds. Therefore, it would not be City in the Image of Man, the name of his famous book on arcology, but city in the image of wo/men, meaning that the collective spirit, not autocracy, becomes the ruling metaphor. This does not mean in anyway to displace Soleri’s vital role in the project. It only allows us a way to see the project in terms of a cooperative cause, not the cause of one man, but the collective dream of all humanity. The container of a meritocracy/democracy model that I am envisioning then is not the single family detached house but arcology, not centralized or decentralized power but a combination of both.

If I am correct in my hypothesis that wisdom comes about through a shared understanding through the urban effect, then women have a role to play in shaping the world. In Soleri’s worldview, at the end of space, there is the Omega Seed, an event when consciousness is so aware of itself that a resurrection occurs. But if women play an equal, but different part in the creation of consciousness, then perhaps we will see the necessity of the Alpha Ovum, from Big Bang to Big Birth, the End and a Neutopian Beginning, the moment when two become one world movement for planetary peace.



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