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'Delusional' Arizonans endangering desert's future
By Doug Snover

September 24, 2005

Architect-philosopher Paolo Soleri spares no words for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, or for “delusional” Arizonans who build sprawling communities in a desert.

Or for the billions of “passionate consumers” now following the same path of folly in China and India.

Soleri, whose still-unfinished Arcosanti project at Cordes Junction north of Phoenix has been an Arizona curiosity since 1970, envisions a future world of “hyper-consumption” that eats away at the Earth’s natural resources until water, energy, pure air and even soil become so scarce that the worldwide competition for those resources leads to violence.

Soleri is scheduled to speak at Changing Hands Bookstore at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, on the subject of what he calls “Lean Alternative,” detailing various alternatives to urban sprawl.

He will also sign his books, including one about Arcosanti and his only definitive biography by Antonietta Iolanda Lima.

The 86-year-old, internationally known architect recently discussed his view of his adopted home state and the world with Wrangler News via email.

He pulled no punches, as is evident in his unedited responses:

Q.  You are scheduled to visit the Changing Hands Bookstore…for a talk titled “Lean Alternative.”  Can you give us a brief summary of that speech?

A.  I will not give a speech. I will just advise people that we are missing the possibility of dealing with reality while we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of materialism

Q.  Is it ironic to see Soleri bells hanging on the patios of new single-family houses on acre lots at the outskirts of the Valley, houses that were built on land that was desert or farmland only a few years ago?  What do you say to Arizonans who desire to live in gated communities in large single-family homes on large lots with walled-in backyards and three-car garages?

A.  The Arizonan desires are profoundly delusional and they are so rooted in the tradition of “free enterprise” at all cost that there is no way to change the pattern we have selected: the passion for hyper consumption, this passion arising now in about 3 billion, the population of China and, very soon, the population of India. Adding the other populations of Africa and Asia and ……., we are presented with a planet incapable of sustaining 5 or 6 billions of passionate consumers. What will ensue is a ferocious competition for the acquisition of scarce resources: water, energy, soil, forests, pure air, minerals…Skyrocketing prices for scarcity will generate violence and will add a countless number of destitute. The Haves and the Have Nots steeped in injustice.

Q.  Any thoughts on the rebuilding of New Orleans?

A.  The Tsunami and Kristina (Soleri likely means Hurricane Katrina – ed.) are tangible and tragic demonstration of life’s fragility and our dependence on man as a social-cultural phenomenon. What the Tsunami victims lost was the quasi-pathological leanness of their lives. What Katrina victims lost is an indulgence toward the hedonism of life. Both places need habitat designed to cope with the tantrums of “mother” nature. We do not cope; we are resetting the stage for countless Tsunamis and Katrinas. We are capricious creatures, dreamers!

Soleri was born in 1919 in Turin, Italy.  He earned a doctorate in architecture from the Torino Polytechnico in 1946, and came to the United States in 1947.

Soleri spent a year-and-a-half in fellowship with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale and at Taliesin East in Wisconsin.

He returned to Italy in 1950 where he was commissioned to build a large ceramics factory; the processes he became familiar with in the ceramics industry led to his award-winning designs of ceramic and bronze windbells. For over 30 years, the sale of ‘Soleri bells’ has funded the Arcosanti project and other theoretical work.

Soleri settled in Scottsdale in 1956 and created the Cosanti Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation whose major project is Arcosanti, a prototype town for 5,000 people designed 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.

Arcosanti has been under construction since 1970 near Cordes Junction.

Changing Hands Bookstore is located at 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe.

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