KNAU Remembers Paolo Soleri

Apr 10, 2013

One of Arizona’s most visionary citizens died on April 9 at his home outside of Phoenix. KNAU’s Constance DeVereaux interviewed him last year and recently spoke with one of his closest associates.

DEVEREAUX: Paolo Soleri was motivated by a simple idea.

PAOLO: The notion of leanness. The notion of doing more with less is essential.

DEVEREAUX: Jeff Stein president of Cosanti Foundation, founded by Soleri, took over after Soleri’s retirement last year.

STEIN: Living lean, for Paolo, had to do with the fact that there are now seven and a half billion humans on the planet. His notion was we that might be able to contain ourselves a little and live more frugally.

DEVEREAUX: “Living lean” was Soleri’s solution to the impact of human habitation on the planet. Cities are too big, too noisy, too intrusive on the natural environment. Too many humans breathing out too much C02 may be our demise.

PAOLO: Because given the situation we are realizing that we are going to destroy the planet by way of C02.

DEVEREAUX: Soleri’s genius was to imagine living spaces that nourish the human spirit and work with the natural surroundings. Instead of changing the world to fit modern-day habits of material excess, Soleri designed buildings that considered…

PAOLO: How you are altered by you being present in this space.

DEVEREAUX: He believed the spaces we inhabit had the potential to alter us to be more in tune with the ecosystem. Soleri coined the term “arcology” a combination of “architecture” and “ecology” to express his visionary ideas. Arcosanti, his urban experiment, located in Cordes Junction showcases his innovations which have influenced urban planners and architects worldwide. According to Stein, Soleri exemplified the values of Arcosanti in his own life.

STEIN: Life for Paolo Soleri was in the thick of things; around people, and ideas, and his own work, and not so much around stuff. Hence the name of his foundation, Cosanti: before things. The notion for Paolo Soleri was that ideas come before things and they’re even more important. And of course architecture comes before most things. You need a place to dance. You need a place; a dance studio.

DEVEREAUX: A celebrated architect and philosopher, Soleri once described himself, impishly and poetically as bits of reality twirling in space.

PAOLO: It’s like having a collection of particles dancing around. I am two trillions of reality dancing around.

Paolo Soleri died April 9 at his home in Paradise Valley. He was 93.

In addition to Arcosanti, other Soleri-built designs can be seen around Arizona. The Soleri Bridge and Plaza in Scottsdale, and large scale bas-relief murals at the Cordes Junction Interchange on I-17. An exhibit of his work entitled, “Think. Draw. Build. Sustain,” is on display at NAU Art Museum through April 13.