Paolo Soleri

Soleri, Paolo (b Turin, 21 June 1919). American architect of Italian birth. He received his doctorate in architecture from the polytechnic in Turin in 1946. A scholarship allowed him to travel to the USA, where he began working for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in January 1947. Disenchanted with Taliesin he left with his friend Mark Mills in September 1948. They set up camp in the Arizona desert under a crude cantilevered column constructed of concrete blocks. The following year, with a client, Leonora Woods, and her daughter Corolyn Woods, they built with their own hands a house in Cave Creek, AZ (see fig.). It consisted of two spaces of opposite character: a living room roofed by two glass and aluminium domes and a bedroom wing dug deep into a hillside and enclosed in masonry walls similar to those at Wright’s Taliesin West. The house dealt with formal, thermal and constructional issues that inspired Soleri throughout his career.

Soleri married Corolyn Woods and in 1950 they returned to Turin, where they supported themselves designing cards, fabrics and ceramics. In 1953 Soleri designed his first major building, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene ceramics factory and studio at Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi coast of southern Italy. It had five storeys of workshops wrapped in a continuous spiral ramp around a great skylit hall filled with angular concrete supports. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and faced with glazed pots, the building relied on locally available materials, handcraft and a dramatic structure.

Soleri rernrned to Arizona in 1955. He and his wife opened a new crafts workshop, first producing ceramic wind bells and later cast bronze and aluminum bells. The family industry that evolved from these provided the major source of income for Soleri’s building projects. He established his Cosanti Foundation, dedicated to creating plans for alternative urban environments, on a dry, flat five-acre site in Paradise Valley. The first building there, the ‘Earth House’ (1956), was constructed of concrete reinforced with wire mesh, poured on a form made directly from the sandy soil of the site. The first modest Cosanti structures sought a full integration of land, climate, craft and livability. Soleri called this design approach ’biotechtonic’ for its concern for solving human biological and spiritual needs through an integrated imaginative technology.

Supported by grants from the Graham and Guggenheim Foundations, Soleri began to explore massive urban applications of his philosophies, initially in the City on the Mesa project (1958-67), an urban plan for two million inhabitants on a plot the size of Manhattan. Using huge translucent plastic models to depict his ideas, he designed numerous high-density cities that he called ‘arcologies’ from their combination of architecture and ecology. From the early 1970s he built his prototype ‘arcology’, Arcosanti, on 14 acres of an 860-acre parcel the high desert of central Arizona. The project was intended eventually to house 5000 people in a 25-storey chain of futuristic buildings perched on the edge of a mesa.


Arcology: The City in the Image of Man (Cambridge, MA, 1970)

The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri (Cambridge, MA, 1971)

Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory (San Diego, 1983)


Contemp. Architects

P. Heyer, ed.: Architects on Architecture: New Direction sin America (New York, 1966, 2/London, 1967)

D. Wall: Visionary Cities: The Arcology of Paolo Soleri (New York and London, 1970, 2/1971)

S. Caldwell: Paolo Soleri: Architectural Drawings (New York, 1981)

Paolo Soleri’s Earthcasting (Layton, 1984)