October 13th, 2018: Arcosanti, Arizona

Dear World,

Have you ever heard of Paolo Soleri? Yeah, neither have I. Let’s learn together.

Once upon a 1919, an Italian baby named, Paolo Soleri, was born. This former baby grew up to become a world-renowned architect. Not just any architect, an architect with a vision.

His career took off when he came to Arizona in 1946 to study at Taliesin West under the architectural legend, Frank Lloyd Wright. It was during that time that he fell in love with the desert landscape and gained prominence as an architect in the US.

Inevitably, he and his wife returned to Italy where he continued to design structures like bridges. It was also during this time that he explored a new interest in ceramic and bronze bell making – a tradition that is still held up today.

In 1956 he and his family settled for good in Scottsdale, Arizona where Soleri dedicated his life to working on an urban structure he called, Arcosanti.

So what’s dat? 

The idea was to create an urban experiment in arcology – a field combining architecture and ecology. Its goal was to sustainably house 5,000 residents.

Soleri and his team began construction in 1970. Sadly, their goals were never met and the city was never finished. However, a large portion of Soleri’s design was executed and some people do live there today.

This idea of a “perfect” or “sustainable” city (which was all I had heard about it) was what attracted me to go check it out – well ask my friend for us to go check it out.

On the tour, I learned that a key component wasn’t just making it more sustainable than our current cities but more communal than our cities. Sounds pretty hippie, huh? I think so too, but it’s a nice sentiment and I’m also a lowkey hippie so there’s that.

Maybe I only like the idea because I’m overly optimistic. I’m continually saddened by all the people I pass by and even occasionally interact with that I’ll never get to know. Each day people drive their cars, alone, order their coffee, alone, walk to classes, alone, and go home to just a few people or even no one.

I’m constantly thinking about this social disconnect I feel. It seems to me that I am often exaggerating it in my head because it makes my heart hurt so much.  I have this unrealistic and idealized longing for a community. Isn’t that what makes me a human, though?

This tour brought up a lot of those feelings for me. Yes, it was nice to walk around Arcosanti. I saw some of the 70-ish residents work together on ceramic and bronze bell construction. That was neat. But.

What would Soleri have thought of Arcosanti’s progress if he were still alive?

I don’t know.

Heck, what did he think of it all when he died? He only passed away in 2013 and surely they haven’t made much progress since then.

It isn’t all in vain, I guess. I may be overly moody at the moment. While I was there, I saw the carefully constructed amphitheatre where they regularly hold events and concerts. I think that’s definitely worth something. The people that live there seem happy and if they aren’t they leave. They make money there too with the tourists and sales of the bells they make. Who am I to say that it’s been a failure? Isn’t failure the thing that propels us toward progress?

I try not to be pessimistic (or is it overly optimistic as I said?). I wonder if there is just something inherent about the human condition that makes it so we’ll never truly feel “at home” with what we have. Everything is always changing and there is always the next thing. Why do we want to control everything?

Why do I want to control everything?

The idea of this sustainable city almost feels like a sort of utopia. That word may conjure up images of communism and deliriousness to many. But maybe we all have our own personal good intentioned utopias inside our hearts. For me, I imagine what it feels like to be a part of a team or a community but maybe for you, it’s imagining that dream job or dream partner that will never come.

I did quite like my time at Arcosanti. At the very least it’s gorgeous  – I mean, just look at that view. At the most learning about its story made me feel a little more human again. Sometimes I forget that I am one of those.

Doing my best at being a human,

love vail v

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