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Building an Ark with Arcology

Posted on: Monday, October 23, 2006

image: Soleri's cosmological bubble diagram

Paolo Soleri received the Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Museum Lifetime Achievement Award this past week. Soleri has crafted his entire life and body of work around the formerly utopian concept of fusing architecture and ecology, or ‘arcology’ - a visionary bubble of today’s green design movement.

Arcosanti, Soleri’s urban laboratory in Arizona’s high desert, is poking through the soil of our building practice psyche. No longer a hippie concept of the past or the marginalized undertaking of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s star pupils, ‘arcology’ is taking root in graduate design schools as the next wave of young architects hone their vision and craft.

Many refer to Soleri as a living visionary, but the architect himself is weary of this term and its delusional undertones. At his lecture at Parsons Architecture and Design School last Friday evening, Soleri clarified his thinking on this front and stated, with a mischievous twinkle, “the practical is often the opposite of the real.” He wants us to adopt “the lean alternative" and abandon our completely unsustainable love affair with the automobile. As an Italian who has been living in the US since 1956, many of his prototypes for urban communities seem reminiscent of the colonized hill towns of Italy or the barnacle-like adobe communities of the southwest.

Soleri views most architects to be orchid makers, designers focused on crafting gorgeous stand-alone structures that are completely inefficient when it comes to the community as a whole. He encourages us to consider having our energy systems collaborate with the morphology of the built system.

This is not utopia. This is our reality. And perhaps we are finally willing to listen to an old desert wiseman who might know a few things about good design and constructing an ark that will actually float once we are within.

For more information on Arcosanti, go to


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