I just acknowledged the news of Architect Paolo Soleri passing away this morning at the age of 93. Visionary architect and artist, creator of the concept of Arcology and Frank Lloyd Wright's alumnus: in 2007 I passed 3 months in the "urban laboratory" that he created in the desert of Arizona, Arcosanti, a place that changed my life and my way of thinking. He will be remembered not only for his architectures, and the famous bells he produced but the people that were lucky to meet him will probably remember his unique character and his shameless attitude, "spanking" women even during serious meetings like the "School of thoughts" causing general laughter between the participants. I will finish my memory with a piece I wrote 4 years ago for a forthcoming publication "Builders of Arcosanti": it's just a draft and not really in fluent english, but I guess you will get the feeling.
Builders of Arcosanti: Stories, memories, and reflection. Davide Vadalà
Life is made of many lives. Arcosanti has been for me an important turning point: I had a life before Arcosanti, and a life after Arcosanti. And actually also a life during Arcosanti. That's what I'm going to tell you.
I went in there almost by chance: sick of the western ordinary life, I quit my job and decided to “try” something different. But what? I remembered of this crazy place I knew in Rome during an exhibition of Paolo Soleri, and I tried to apply for a scholarship. “Scholarship applications should arrive 6 months in advance” said the website. “Nevermind, I will give it a try”, I thought. And with an hopeless click, I sent the e-mail that after only two weeks brought me to Arizona.
I can still remember the welcome I received at Cordes Junction, jumping in a car with exploding energy that contaminated this tired jet-lagged shy guy. And I can recall the first impression of the rooms: I expected they were frugal, but not that much frugal! A cracky cement floor, wood boards and thin mattresses as beds. Fruit boxes as pieces of furniture. But I was lucky! I was the first one to arrive, so at least I was able to choose the straight bed, while the others were swinging like rocking-horses!
Then it was the turn to get used with that unusual fauna: snakes crawling along the path, tarantulas waiting for you at your awakening, squirrels wandering like cats. And also a painful Centipede bite is part of the full immersion in Arcosanti!
Despite it's far away from the closest city, Arcosanti is a very dynamic place with new workshoppers, tourists, students joining every week. Arcosanti is made of these people. People that interact in a different way because they are different. And because the environment where they are living is different. If you want to meet someone, you just have to go in one of the gathering point: thecafè, the vaults, the pool. Or maybe just walking in the amphitheater, hoping that someone will see you through the window. That's what Paolo Soleri called "legislate by design" offering a grid to people where they can freely interact.
In an ordinary city, the vaults would have been an off limit place: too dangerous for allowing people over there. In Arcosanti, the Vaults are "The place". It's the main gathering point to watch the sky at night (by the way the night-sky of Arcosanti is still in my heart), to sleep all together after throwing a party, or spontaneously gathering and celebrate at the first monsoon.
Staying in Arcosanti you understand that you don't need a fancy couch to meet people, but some rotted car seats are enough.
People living in there have very different backgrounds and ideas. Mostly they decided to live in Arcosati because they feel good, there is no stress, they are in touch with nature. Others still feel a strong concern with Arcosanti goal, hoping to reach a critical mass and change a little bit the world. This two populations live aside and often are melting together like a bell in the foundry. Urban Laboratory: that's how they call it. And this is really what it is. Not only a laboratory for architecture, but also a training for relations and lifestyle. Frugality pervades all the environment, and you can taste a different approach toward life.
In Arcosanti a skill is something to teach and share with the others, spontaneously or through workshops, and not something to keep for yourself to decrease competition. Sharing: this is one of the main messages I learned in Arcosanti, and this is what I'm trying to apply in my life. Sharing ideas, thoughts, goods, structures. After a few weeks living in Arcosanti, you understand you learned a lot of things just watching, talking and living.
While during the week Arcosanti is really active, during the weekends it is quiet. Work is not going on, and walking around the town you just feel silence and peace. Sometimes also boredom and tiredness, until the night is coming and it's party time for everyone. Young, Adults, children, dressed like jokers having fun all together and smiling to a new week.
And weekend is also time for festival and events. Cultural program in Arcosanti is wide and there are occasions to sing, dance, perform and think.
And if nothing of that is going on, it's time to move. In fact Arcosanti means also exploring the surrounding land and cities, travelling with improbable groups and surprising the local inhabitants: “An American-Philippine, a New Zealander, an American-Palestinian and an Italian together, what the hell are you doingtogether?!?” In Arcosanti it is also time for thinking and questioning. Despite the tedious, monotonous appearance, Morning Meeting is the moment to interact with the other inhabitants, knowing what's going on and learning about the social dynamic of the community. But it's through the school of thoughts that you always search for an answer talking with the others, like ancient greek philosophers meeting in the Agorà. And despite it's a "private" moment, it is one of the main tool to find ideas worth spreading outside, and crossing Arcosanti boundaries. Also Arcosanti is not immune to problems. It's frustrating seeing the construction is stuck for lack of funds or going on very slowly. It's a germ unable to blossom.
I usually think it's difficult to remember of your past life. It's easier to re-feel the emotions connected with your memories. But I still bear in mind very clearly all the people, places and feelings of Arcosanti, and I'm always suspended, thinking of going back in there, but “fearing” I could stay there all of my life. Until I won't make up my mind, I still have to think to all of you, wonderful people, and survive re-feeling my past Arco-Strong-Amazing Emotions. So see you soon ArcoFeelings!