The general paradigm for most "nature" oriented housing, I like to call "The Little House in the Big Woods", a classification which covers anything from Thoreau's shack at Walden Pond to Fallingwater: an owner-built (or at least commissioned) house set on a houselot of three or more acres, with such picturesque amenities as a gravel driveway, utilization of site-specific features such as rock faces, inclines, trees, and/or water as part of the structure, lavish use of stone, glass, rare wood, and redwood decking, a nod towards self-reliance, if not self-sufficiency, in the form of generators, a fireplace, integral plantings, solar panels, well water, solid waste composting, and the like. Such houses are interesting to visit, and often a lot of fun to live in, and if done well, don't impact too much on the local landscape.

The problem is, as people in the Hamptons found out in the Eighties, that while scattered quirky houses, separated by a mile or more, among more traditional homes for commercial fishermen and farmers, cause little disruption to the local atmosphere, several hundred similar houses in the same vicinity quickly become a form of big-ticket tract housing. While a seldom-used beach house can use a gas generator and have its own well and septic tank, thirty or forty need a power grid, water mains, and a sewage system. Dirt roads become inadequate for the service of telephones, police, fire, and cable systems. You might even need mass transportation for the domestic help (since the only people who can afford these houses can't do their own housework) and a better school system, and that's not counting the fact that the charming old grocery in the village isn't going to pass muster with several hundred urban sophisticates who want something more aesthetic to eat than corned beef hash and Franco-American Spaghetti-O's. Soon, secondary housing moves in down the road, in the form of condos and apartments for the bookstore clerk, the hairdresser, the firemens' families, and the various fishermen and farmers' kids who can no longer afford to live there, and you might as well have stayed back in the 'burbs. Trying, after the fact, to impose "greener" standards on such a community usually results in fiendishly complex sets of local ordinances on public and private behavior, mandating, for instance, that people spend huge amounts of time and space hand-washing and sorting garbage.

Soleri's vision was to begin, not with the micro-level of a "green" house, but with a whole "green" city housed in a complex of several connected buildings that incorporates all the familiar uses of a city (housing, work, entertainment) and more (agriculture, industry, building) in in an "arcology". Such a complex, geared towards self-reliance, could be situated nearly anywhere, from the sub-Arctic to the tropics, and can house as many as 170,000 people in an area not too much larger than a large shopping mall. In such an environment, crowding is a virtue: by emphasizing shared facilities for eating, transportation, recreation, and entertainment, huge numbers of people can be housed and fed in a stimulating atmosphere rivalling that of the walled cities of Italy and France, while economizing on energy, land and other resources. Not that an arcology, on the inside, feels crowded or limited: light wells, large windows, and landscaped atria and skylobbies abound on the large scale, while in the small, every dwelling space has both a street side, oriented towards the city center, and outward, to face the expanse of untouched surrounding greenery. Further preservation of the beauty and ecosystem of the surrounding landscape is achieved by raising the bulk of the buildings on columns.

Life in such a place would be a constant mixture of city and country: late-night revellers would share maglev space with farmers commuting to their fields, while office workers can come home to meditate in their balcony mini-garden. Infrastructure would be constantly tested and maintained by teams of robots, operated by the construction division.

If this seems more than familiar to you from SF, this is exactly where these notions come from: his ideas and signature cities-on-stilts designs were widely copied for such disparate films as "Barbarella" (where the life inside the city has degenerated into anarchy, while lawful outcasts live in an orchid-overgrown labyrinth outside) and "The Jetsons" (where, apparently, Hanna-Barbera scrapped the mass transit idea in favor of the well-known mini-jetcars).

In reality, Soleri's notions have borne fruit in only one place: Arcosanti, a planned community north of Phoenix, Arizona. There, a community of a bare 500 (out of a projected 7000) souls carry out his ideals in an "urban laboratory". There are greenhouses, arbors, concert spaces, and a cafeteria, as well as sleeping cubicles for the workers at the foundry and ceramic workshop, which, along with the revenue from various agricultural holdings, forms the basic income of the town. While Soleri lives there, and the inhabitants seem happy and have evolved a truly toothsome cuisine, the city remains at only 3% completion...and is rapidly decaying, the result of a too-quick building boom in the early 70's. In the 40 years he's been working, the notion of living in the panopticon environment of a shopping mall has lost its luster. Still the designs are pretty. Some day their time will come again.

Born in Turin, Italy on June 21, 1919, Paolo Soleri was awarded his Ph.D. with highest honors in architecture from the Torino Polytechnico in 1946. Soleri came to the United States in 1947 and spent a year-and-a-half in fellowship with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona, and at Taliesin East in Wisconsin. During this time, Soleri gained international recognition for a bridge design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and published in The Architecture of Bridges by Elizabeth Mock. Upon his return to Italy in 1950, Soleri was commissioned to build a large ceramics, "Ceramica Artistica Solimene." It is largely thought that Soleri's experience here with ceramic design and construction led to his award-winning designs of ceramic and bronze windbells and siltcast architectural structures. For over 30 years, proceeds from these works have allowed Soleri to fund the research and construction of his theoretical works in urban design.

In 1956 Soleri settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his late wife, Colly, and their two daughters. The couple then made a life-long commitment to research and experimentation in urban planning, establishing the Cosanti Foundation, an educational establishment, to attract further talent into the field.

The Foundation's major project is Arcosanti, a prototype town for 7,000 people designed by Soleri, under construction since 1970. Located at Cordes Junction, in central Arizona, the project is based on Soleri's concept of "Arcology," architecture coherent with ecology. Arcology advocates cities designed to maximize the interaction and accessibility associated with an urban environment; minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and environmental pollution; and allow interaction with the surrounding natural environment.
Soleri's principles of arcology advocate cities planned to:

  • foster heightened individual and cultural creativity
  • minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land
  • reduce waste and environmental pollution
  • and allow easy access to the surrounding natural environment.

A landmark exhibition, "The Architectural Visions of Paolo Soleri," organized in 1970 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada, breaking records for attendance. "Two Suns Arcology, A Concept for Future Cities" opened at the Xerox Square Center in Rochester, New York, in 1976. In 1989 "Paolo Soleri Habitats: Ecologic Minutiae," and exhibition of arcologies, space habitats and bridges, was presented at the New York Academy of Sciences. Most recently, "Soleri's Cities, Architecture for the Planet Earth and Beyond" was featured at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts in Scottsdale, AZ. Soleri's work has been exhibited worldwide.

Soleri has received one fellowship from the Graham Foundation and two from the Guggenheim Foundation. He has been awarded three honorary doctorates, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for Craftmanship in 1963, the Gold Medal from the World Biennieal of Architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1981, and the Silver Medal of the Academied Architecture in Paris, 1984. Soleri is a distinguished lecturer in the College of Architecture at Arizona State University.

He has written eleven books and numerous essays and monographs. When he is not traveling on the international lecture circuit, Soleri divides his time between Cosanti, the original site for his research located in Scottsdale, and Arcosanti.

Writings of Paolo Soleri:


  • The Urban Ideal: Conversations with Paolo Soleri. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2001
  • Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? (Third Edition). Mayer, AZ.: The Cosanti Press, 1993
  • Technology and Cosmogenesis. New York: Paragon, 1986
  • Paolo Soleri's Earth Casting: For Sculpture, Models and Construction. (co-authored by Scott M. Davis) Salt Lake City: Peregrine-Smith, 1984
  • Space for Peace. (monograph) Paradise Valley, AZ.: Cosanti Foundation, 1984
  • Fragments--A Selection from the Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri; The Tiger Paradigm-Paradox. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981
  • The Omega Seed: An Eschatological Hypothesis. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1981
  • The Bridge Between Matter and Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1973
  • The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1971
  • Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1969
  • "Archetipi Cosanti--Paolo Soleri Architetto" (Booklet in Italian), 1956


  • "Paolo Soleri." Tucson Weekly, vol. 10, no. 23, Aug 4-Aug 10, 1993, pp. 8.
  • "Space Time & Simultaneity in Utopia--An Eschatological Probe." L'Architettura, vol. 42, no 12, December 1990, pp. 844-845.
  • "Ten Elements for Discussion." ICIS Forum (21)2 April 1991: 38-40.
  • Arcidi, Philip. (interview) "Paolo Soleri's Arcology: Updating the Prognosis." Progressive Architecture 72(3). Penton/Rheinhold March, 1991: 76-78.
  • "Five Afflictions of the American Dream." Pan Ecology: An Irregular Journal of Nature and Human Nature. (5)2 Spring 1990: 1-3.
  • "Brief Statements Concerning the Global Forum." ICIS Forum. (20)1 January 1990:51-55.
  • (monograph). "Paolo Soleri." Whole Earth Review. Ed. Kevin Kelly (61) Winter, 1988: 81.
  • (interview). "Paolo Soleri Interviewed by Max Underwood." Triglyph: a southwestern journal of architecture and environmental design. Ed. Marcus Whiffen (5). Tempe, AZ.: Arizona State University, College of Architecture and Environmental Design. Winter, 1987-88: 3-10.
  • The Limits of Conservation. Ethics of Change: conflicting values in the use of cultural and natural resources. Ed. James J. Murphy and Jay Booth. New Smyrna Beach, FL.: Atlantic Center for the Arts, 25-27 February, 1987: 39-51.
  • (monograph). Conservation in the Contemporary Era. The Jerusalem Papers 1 & 2-Proceedings from the "International Workshop on Heritage and Conservation, Jerusalem as Laboratory". Ed. Michael Turner, architect. Jerusalem, Israel: The Jerusalem Center for Planning in Historic Cities, 16-20 March, 1986.
  • Space for Peace. L5 News September, 1985: 12-14.
  • "Paolo Soleri". Environmental Action 16(7) May/June, 1985: 14.
  • (interview). Survival or Transcendence-A Dialogue with Paolo Soleri. Deep Ecology. Ed. Michael Tobias. San Diego, CA.: Avant Books, 1984: 271-294.
  • Teilhard and the Esthetic. Teilhard and the Unity of Knowledge. Ed. Thomas M. King; S.J. and James F. Salmon. New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1983: 74-82.
  • Technology As Cosmogenesis: Process Technology. Technology Assessment and Development. Ed. Mangalam Srinivasan. New York: Praeger, 1982: 55-64.
  • Myriad Specks/Teasing Grace. The Spirit of the Earth: A Teilhard Centennial Celebration. Ed. Jerome Perlinski. New York: Seabury Press, 1981: 131-144.
  • (interview by Jeffrey Cook). Soleri Champions Small Scale? Federal Design Matters (23). Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, Design Arts Program. Spring, 1981: 1, 8.
  • Earthly Cities. Parabola 6(2) May, 1981: 61-.
  • Images of the Imminent. Journal of Current Social Issues 15(3) Fall, 1978: 40-45.
  • The City of the Future. Earth's Answer. Ed. Michael Katz; William P. Marsh and Gail Gordon Thompson. New York: Lindesfarne/Harper & Row, 1977: 72-77.
  • The Two Suns Arcology. Architectural Association Quarterly (AAQ) 7(2), 1975: 33-41.
  • Time to reappraise man's love affair with his automobile. The Arizona Republic, 27 June, 1973.
  • Arcomedia L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui No 167 (May-June 1973) 8
  • Theology of the Sun L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui No 167 (May-June 1973) 5-7
  • Arcosanti. L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui No 167 pp. 84-87 May June 1973
  • A Canadian Alternative? Habitat v 15 No 6 1972 pp. 2-7
  • Utopia: Practical Man, Real Man Cry California: Journal of California Tomorrow Vol. 7 No 2 Spring 1972
  • Simulation & Becoming in: v 4 n 1 p 60 63 Jan-March 1972
  • (proceedings). The Arts and the Human Environment/"Paolo Soleri". Arts in Society 8(2) Summer, 1971: 526-530.
  • The ideas. In Architectural Forms, Functions v 16 p 1-240, 1971
  • Utopia o Revoluzione Perspective v 13 / 14 p 281-285, 1971
  • The New Environment, the University and the Welfare of Man. ed, Billy Ray Wilson. JB Lippincott Co. 1969. 55-83
  • Project pour la Foundation Cosanti, Arizona, Estate-Unis (in L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, v 35 p 70-75 March 1965 illus., plans
  • Elements pour une Discussion L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui Vol. N/A No 139 September 1968
  • Soleri comments on Earth Issue (a letter to the editor) Progressive Architecture Vol. 48 No 6 June 1967 p 10 letter in response to a comment on p 181 of April 1967 PA
  • Environment and building Architecture Anthology Jeffrey Cook, editor Tempe, AZ ASU 1966 pp. 118-122 (back cover)
  • The Technological and the Human Way Industrie und Kunst (,) Linz., pp. 49-50 Linz, Austria; Linzer Akademiefonds; (1966?)
  • A Prospectus for Environment and Building Image Vol. (?) No 3 1965 pp. 4-7
  • (Testimonial Letter upon the death of Le Corbusier) L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui Vol. N/A No 51 November 1965 p 116
  • Thought of Paolo Soleri: An Avant Garde Architectural Craftsman (interview) The ARCHI Vol. 42, No 2, Winter 1965 pp. 9-10
  • From Sketchbooks 1958-63, with accompanying groundplan for the Cosanti Foundation Stolen Paper Review Vol. N/A No 3 Spring 1965 pp. 36-41
  • Development Drawings Architectural Review Vol. 137 No 816 February 1965 p 147-148
  • The development by Paolo Soleri of the design for the Cosanti Foundation, U.S.A. Ed. Keller Smith, Jr. and Reyhan Tansal 14(4). Raleigh, NC.: Student publications of the School of Design, North Carolina State, of the University of North Carolina, 1964.
  • Computer, Craft and Art Architecture (a publication of the School of Architecture of McGill University, Montreal Canada (title?) Vol. ? No 2 December 1964 p 18-25
  • Project de ville ideale "Mesa City." (in Architecture, Forms et Functions. v 9 p (118)-120 1962/63 illus., plans)
  • How Things Look to Me Stolen Paper Review Vol. N/A No 1 Spring 1963 pp. 37-38
  • (house design entry). Paolo Soleri, Scottsdale, Arizona. 1957 International architectural competition to design a solar residence. Phoenix, AZ.: Association for Applied Solar Energy, 1958: xi, 53.

List originally compiled by Scott M. Davis, March 13, 1995
Updated January 29, 2002

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