Paolo Soleri is an Italian-American architect and theorist who has devoted his life to experimental urban planning. A tireless visionary, Soleri is best known as the mastermind of Arcosanti, a prototype city in the Arizona desert that embodies his concept of “arcology,” the fusion of architecture and ecology. Car-free and compact, Arcosanti was designed to offer an alternative to sprawl. We recently spoke with Soleri, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June.
Based on what you have seen and read about this project, how would you grade it? Use the stars below to indicate your assessment, five stars being the highest rating.
GreenSource: In terms of society’s attitude about the built landscape, do you see any difference between now and the 1960s and 1970s, when you were conceiving Arcosanti?
Paolo Soleri: Well, in the ’60s we were still very delirious over the technological revolution and what it brought for us—a fantastic transformation, most of it admirable. But unfortunately we’ve been taking the wrong road, because as soon as you reach a certain level of comfort and security, you cannot put a roof on your ambitions. So if you have this much, for sure you want to have that much, and that much. It becomes a delusion: fulfillment is ownership—and unlimited ownership. And what suffers is the planet.
GS: What do you think about the current state of affairs in regards to sustainable design?
PS: We are kidding. We are not facing the problem: how we develop habitat for billions of people. Reformation is not sufficient now. We need to reformulate.
GS: What is today’s most pressing environmental issue?
PS: If you are very serious, we need to look at what we are doing with our habitat, our shelter. The American dream is to get wealthy enough to get a little house, which then might become a big house, and then a mansion. And happiness, it’s at your door. This is a lie of astounding proportion, because what we are really doing is cultivating the notion of hermitage. We are all hermits who try to affirm their own presence, with a persuasion or conviction that we can control our destiny as soon as we can control our little area somewhere on the planet. Within our domain, we do what we like to do. But that’s a delusion really. We are interdependent, so as individuals, we will not survive. There is no animal species that can survive independently.
GS: How do we mitigate sprawl and materialism and live “leaner,” as you might say? Do we need government policies, or will people do it on their own?
PS: My observation is that truly green policies are not accepted by anybody. As long as we are thinking in terms of “me” instead of “us,” we are not going to get anywhere. We are going to delude ourselves for a few more generations, and then probably something will happen. I call it the tsunami of real.
GS: Do you have hope for the future?
PS: If you look at the progression of life, you cannot be but super optimistic. It’s a miracle that life has been extending itself for 5 billion years. Then you look at the present and you ask yourself how such a species that is so great can make so many funny mistakes, and you know there are all the intrusions of theology and greed and xenophobia that are just stopping evolution.
GS: But you do have some hope?
PS: Oh, absolutely. I can’t avoid it.
GS: At age 90, you’re still active. For instance, you have a bridge commission in Scottsdale, Arizona, and you still give lectures at Arcosanti. Do you plan to retire?
PS: I’m half-retired, or something like that. When I collapse, I collapse.
share: more »