There’s an expression for someone who has to travel a long way to discover something he could have found more easily on his doorstep. Whatever that expression is, it could certainly be applied to me as far as the work of the architect Paolo Soleri is concerned. Born and trained in Turin, where I once lived, it took a trip to Phoenix for me to come across the man’s work. The title to this post comes from his book Arcosanti: an urban laboratory? – a collection of thoughts and their applicability to his experimental town in the Arizona desert: Arcosanti. I only got to see the town from a distance, but we visited his workshop, where I photographed this chime.
This post isn’t finished, merely interrupted. By dinner.
Dinner over. In this book Soleri comments:
The value, indeed the imperative of crowding, is documented by 3.5 eons of life. Organisms are by definition crowded, self-contained miniaturized realities. Organisms, societies, and cultures that turn away from such an imperative would be strange, paradoxical and ineffective exceptions. One such exception is the sprawl resulting from the age of the automobile […] Sprawl is a pathological event. It suffers from gigantism with all the derivative handicaps and shortcomings: environmental disruption, waste, pollution, energy and time depletion, expensive logistics, segregation, and urban decay.
What’s interesting is that Soleri should have chosen to build his experimental crowded city within spitting distance of Phoenix, a city that extends in what feels like an almost infinite grid across the skin of the desert. It’s too ordered to be considered sprawl, but the overall effect, amplified by the general absence of high-rise building, is of a vast city clinging by its fingernails to the land beneath it, as though the land were about to tilt and throw it off. It’s a city of space and distance, and is certainly unmanageable without a car. But do people spend more time travelling in Phoenix than they do in other large cities, where the work place and the home are separated for a host of socio-economic reasons? And would the traffic-free crowded urban environment of Arcosanti leave room for those people who don’t – or don’t want to – fit? Sometimes segregation is less imposition than a sort of freedom.