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Paolo Soleri
Paolo Soleri

The Sound
of Distant Bells

By Ray Wyman, Jr.

Arcosanti City
Arcosanti, Arizona

The Arcosanti Bells
The Bells of Arcosanti


Suggested Websites

Arcosanti: A Prototype Arcology - the official Arcosanti site with other great links and reading.

Cosanti Originals: Where you can buy the famous bells. Proceeds support the Cosanti Foundation.

Arcology: Solution for the Information Age: An excellent webbook written and researched by Ivan Schonfeld in 1997-98.

To Tori Amos
Tori Amos: Singer/songwriter has a new album called "Scarlet's Walk" which takes a journey throughout North America. This article is linked to Amos' site because the song "Crazy" travels through Arizona, making a pitstop at Arcosanti. I am honored to provide this link, thanks to Sheri Lee, at Epic Records, New York.


Suggested Reading

The Bells of Arcosanti Recorded at Arcosanti, CD features the magical harmonic overtones of the famous bells, accented by bamboo bass flute, hammered dulcimer, vocal harmonies, guitar, bamboo sax, didjeridoo, and the ambient atmospherics of Arcosanti's unique acoustic space.

Arcosanti Archetype : The Rebirth of Cities This book gives the reader an excellent overview of the Arcosanti project. I highly recommend it as an introduction material to Paolo Soleri's theories and observations.

Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory A hard to find edition that digs deeper into urban theory and the Arcosanti project. An vital text on the future of urban planning and architecture.

Rare and Out-of-Print:

Paolo Soleri, Technology and Cosmogenesis, Paragon, 1986

Paolo Soleri and Scott M. Davis, Earth Casting: For Sculpture, Models and Construction, Peregrine-Smith, 1984

Paolo Soleri, Space for Peace, Cosanti Foundation, 1984

Paolo Soleri, Fragments: A Selection from the Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri, Harper and Row, 1981

Paolo Soleri, The Omega Seed: An Eschatological Hypothesis, Anchor/Doubleday, 1981

Paolo Soleri, Earth's Answer, Lindsifarne Books, 1977

Paolo Soleri, The Sketchbooks of Paolo Soleri, MIT Press, 1971

Paolo Soleri, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, MIT Press, 1971

Donald Wall, Visionary Cities: the Arcology of Paolo Soleri, Praeger, 1970


Other Articles
by Ray Wyman, Jr.

A Policy for Science unveils the darker issues of public policy. Features interviews with Dr. Sherwood Rowland, who discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica.

Going The Distance for teachers and students using online learning sites to improve their lives.

A Companion to Rare Coin Collecting is what you need to start a coin collection. Recommended by AskJeeves, Coin Club, other sites.

Achieving Vision is what people must do to achieve their dreams. Having ambition isn't enough - you have to adopt a vision for the future to succeed.

Promoting Your Organization is easy if you know the basics about writing press releases and talking to the press. Originally written for NetDay96.

To Spell Well is everybody's dream, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to achieve when you are armed with some simple rules.


The grotesquely beautiful ceramic and brass wind chimes of Arcosanti are the joint creation of Paolo Soleri and his wife, Colly. Sold in malls and over the Internet, the bells of Arcosanti have gradually become familiar fixtures in homes and schools around the world.

Yet, the bells are more than a dash of fashion with which to accent our surroundings. They are a call to arms against the compound problems of an exploding world population, worsening pollution, shrinking resources, and poor public policy. The alarm over our global environmental situation has only recently been raised, but Soleri has been sounding his warning bells for nearly fifty years.

Originating from Turin, Italy, Soleri received a doctorate in architecture, graduating with highest honors from Torino Polytechnico University in 1946. In 1947 he studied under the master architect Frank Lloyd Wright and soon gained world recognition as a seminal designer of bridges and commercial buildings. Then one day he paused to think about what he was contributing to the world.

What he saw was an "unwieldy sprawl for miles." Commenting in his book Earth's Answer (1977), he realized that cities are gradually transforming the Earth, "turning farms into parking lots while wasting enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods, and services over their vast expanses." A typical city, he noted, devotes up to sixty percent of its land for roads and parking lots - and there never seems to be enough of either.

Soleri's observations crystallized into a revolutionary notion: miniaturize the city to a human scale that enables conservation of land, energy, and other resources; in short, a wholesale reconstruction of the Earth's cities into ecologically sustainable urban systems. He framed his nonconformist concepts into a new discipline called 'arcology': the fusion of architecture, urban design, and ecology.

Paradoxically, arcology promotes the city as a means to save the environment and humankind. As our populations grow and the demand for food and energy increases, we must concentrate more of our living space into smaller, easily manageable habitats. Doing so, he claims, will not only achieve ecological preservation, but human preservation as well.

He spent 10 years building up a promising architectural career in Italy and went to Scottsdale, Arizona to begin a crusade to save the urban human from its worst enemy - itself. In 1956, he and his wife began searching the arid, open spaces for a place that would help seed their movement. After a few months of searching, they found a little plot of land about 60 miles from Phoenix near a place called Cordes Junction.

Work on the prototype began almost immediately; a city they named Arcosanti. Envisioned for a population of 7,000 people, the project began modestly with an experimental 'Earth House'. Since then, Soleri, his students, and hundreds of volunteers from around the world have expanded Arcosanti to include various studios, classrooms, housing, and common use areas. According to the official Website, arcosanti.org, the habitat is an 'urban laboratory' - an experiment that will ultimately see a compact, complex urban structure with large-scale solar greenhouses occupying 10 acres of a 4,000 acre preserve.

Some critics are not kind to Arcosanti. They point to forty-four years of work with a lackluster 10 percent of the master plan completed as evidence of its failure. After earning the dubious title as an official Arizona tourist site in the late 1970s, Arcosanti looks more like an amusement park, playing host to numerous festivals, conferences, and performances. In the meantime, true arcology - as defined by its creator - remains as elusive as ever.

Despite these and other problems, Soleri's supporters maintain that the Arcosanti experiment is immensely successful as a teaching laboratory. They also point to the fact that the project has captivated the imaginations of a new breed of architects and urban planners who are willing to challenge established standards and trends.

Since achieving world status with the 1971 landmark book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, Acrosanti has become the Mecca for students of architecture, urban planning, and design. The city also entertains a wide range of professional disciplines and is the center of attention for Earth-minded engineering such as recycled resources and renewable energy. Experimental 'green cities' are springing up like mushrooms as more and more Arcosanti-inspired urbanists probe ways of codifying arcological theory for practical use.

Inspired by Soleri's 'contained living space' concepts, the William McDonough's Coffee Creek Center in Indiana uses photovoltaic-paneled houses and wind farms as a primary source of power. Homes near Boulder, Colorado have been using Soleri's greenhouse designs for decades. Soleri himself has been commissioned to draft urban redevelopment plans for major cities in the United States and Europe, and he has designed various designs for space colonization habitats.

A few years ago, in an apparent capitulation in the debate over long-term use of fossil fuels, major automakers began planning new nonpolluting fuel-cell transportation, and homeowners can now go to their local home improvement retailer and purchase photovoltaic panels for their homes.

Despite these successes, still the work on Arcosanti goes slowly; it takes money to build a city and at times money has been a scarce commodity. That's where the bells came in. According to Soleri, the idea grew gradually, coming in phases rather than all at one time.

After his tenure with Wright and upon his return to Italy in 1948, Soleri's first major architectural work was a major ceramics factory. The project was enormously successful and Soleri ended up with enough experience in the ceramics business to start his own factory; an asset that Colly deftly used to launch Cosanti Originals after construction on Arcosanti began.

The famous bells became a fixture in the Arcosanti realm soon after both operations were in full stride. Since then sales of windchimes and other Cosanti artifacts have been a major source of funds for construction, maintenance, and other expenses. Soleri remarks that if somebody told him that Arcosanti would be funded through the sale of bells, "I would have called them crazy."

Neither arcology nor Arcosanti may provide all the answers we need to solve our problems, but the gentle gong of the bells remind us that decisive action is anxiously waiting. Unlike his critics and the cynically minded, Soleri is hopeful that some future generation will take up the cause. "It is much too late for our present generation, bound to the spell of arrogance and license. It may even be quite late for the just born, but there is hope for the children of our children. The when is now, for lack of any reachable yesterday." -HP


 
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