“Sadness.” That’s how internationally acclaimed Paradise Valley architect and urban planner Paolo Soleri summed up what he thinks of the modern American city.
Urban sprawl and “rampant materialism” are “the betrayal of mankind,” Soleri said.
The 86-year-old Soleri is best known for creating “Arcology,” the harmonious fusion of architecture and ecology as the antidote to urban sprawl and as a model for the future.
For his work, Soleri will be presented a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Soleri will be honored on July 10 at the White House and again in New York at the museum in mid-October.
The Italian-born architect and onetime Nobel Prize nominee spoke to the Tribune from Cosanti, his Paradise Valley residence-studio-gallery tucked away along the 6400 block of Doubletree Ranch Road. The unique place is adorned with original works of pottery, chimes, tiles, sculptures and earthen designs that embody Soleri’s philosophy of integrating man and the environment.
A soft-spoken and energetic man about to turn 87 later this month, Soleri did not take credit for his “Arcology” concept.
“It’s not my idea. It’s the idea of reality, always and only coming out of a highly compact and highly complex system (of life),” he said.
Soleri, who holds three honorary doctorates and numerous international awards, also created Arcosanti, an experimental community in Cordes Junction, south of Sedona.
Soleri said the community, established in 1970, is a laboratory still in development which embodies “Arcology” concepts.
In his younger years, Soleri studied under legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at Wright’s foundation Taliesin West in Scottsdale and Wisconsin.
Soleri spoke candidly about his former teacher, hailing Wright as “a great architect” who as a planner was “mistaken” in believing mankind was the center of the universe.
“The suburbia that he glamorized became what I call the curse of our civilization and now we are beginning to find out about that,” Soleri said.
Longtime friend and former architect Lisa Scafuro characterized Soleri “as a man of the people” whose message is one of “awareness and acceptance of the environment.”
Scafuro, 48, of Scottsdale, met Soleri in the late 1970s when he was a guest lecturer and she was an architecture student at Arizona State University.
Scafuro, now a freelance writer, is working on a 90-minute documentary about Soleri which she hopes to have finished by 2008.