Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paolo Soleri, RIP

Paolo died on April 9th at the age of 93. He was the designer of Arcosanti, where we lived for a year after completing the workshop program. While we were there, Paolo could still be occasionally seen on the end of a shovel, but a while back, we heard that he had been ill and had stopped all involvement with the project to "focus on his writing." I assumed then that his passing couldn't be far off. I couldn't imagine Paolo hanging around for any length of time as a semi-invalid.

We had the chance to talk to Paolo several times during our stay at Arcosanti, but we can't really say that we knew him or much about him. I'm not sure anyone really did outside of a very small circle. But I can say that he was certainly a unique human being with a gift for pissing people off. I haven't met many people I would label "genius"; Paolo was certainly one of them.

I just went to Amazon to see if I could scare up a copy of his book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. No new copies available, but a used one in paperback is a mere $438.19. That didn't take long. I hope they do a reprint of the hardcover edition (the paperback was crap and fell apart the first time you opened the cover). I wanted to get a copy while we were at Arcosanti and never got a round tuit. It would be nice to have a copy, but not for the price of a used car.

Paolo was buried next to his wife on the Arcosanti property. I remember one of the times Debbie and I were wandering around when we were there for the workshop. We had crossed the Agua Fria River and climbed to the top of the mesa next to the one Arcosanti is built on, when we came across a small, fenced-in area with a padlocked gate. Inside was a bench and a badly-neglected garden. Everything was long dead other than native pioneer weeds that had reclaimed the spot. By then we had gotten used to stumbling across odd bits that someone had invested time and money into only to have it abandoned to the elements. We found out later that it was Paolo's wife's grave, the closest thing to a sacred site at a militantly atheist project. I assume it was spruced up a bit for Paolo's arrival. Or possibly not; he was never had much use for formalities.

One of the reoccurring conversations we had as residents of Arcosanti (and something I was asked about on every site tour I gave), was if the project would survive the death of its creator. On paper at least, there should be no problem. Paolo has not had an active role in Arcosanti or the Cosanti Foundation that supports it for many years. The day-to-day operation has been run entirely by others, and there is no logical reason for there to be the slightest hiccup with Paolo's passing. And yet I can't help but wonder if interest will wane in continuing to build out the site, with what is already there becoming a Monument to a Visionary, preserved in amber like Taliesin West. I may not have known Paolo all that well, but I'm pretty sure he would have hated the very idea.

I will close with this: Our lives were certainly made richer by Paolo's little experiment out in the central highlands of Arizona. In fact, Arcosanti probably saved our marriage. Thanks, ol' man, and Godspeed.

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