Arcosanti - An Urban Laboratory in the Arizona Desert.

Reality Now and Then

“One can never really give a proof of the reality of anything; reality is not something open to proof, it is something established…proof is not enough. It is this characteristic of language, at once indispensable and inadequate, which shows the reality of the external world. Most people hardly ever realize this, because it is rare that the very same man thinks and puts his thought into action...” – Simone Weil , LECTURES ON PHILOSOPHY, p. 72–3

Paolo Soleri is one of those rare men described by Weil who has thought and has put his thoughts into action. His reality, and now ours, was influenced by many people and ideas. Among them are ideas embodied in the buildings the young architect Soleri lived and worked in at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West during the first 18 months of his career.    
It has always been Paolo Soleri’s notion that presents are built on pasts. His current collage series is derived from classical precedents, and is a commentary on what has gone before to make present reality possible. As such, we imagine the daily work at Arcosanti does alter our present reality, and will certainly influence others over time and space. This is how evolution manages itself.

So, let’s continue: Here are five of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas/discoveries that influenced Soleri’s reality. These come by way of interpretation by the late Scandinavian theorist, Christian Norburg Schulz. It is easy to see how Paolo Soleri transformed these ideas when he took time to consider and confront architectural, cultural, climate, energy, and urban issues that FLLW did not, nor could have forseen.

*A new understanding of Open Space.
Wright’s particular use of horizontal and vertical planes to create dynamic interaction of interior and exterior represented a new concretization of the basic image of open space.
*Three Dimensional Architecture.
For the first time in human history, Wright solved architecture as a truly 3-dimensional problem; the building façade – in place from Roman times to pioneer towns of the American West -- no longer mattered.

*How Shall We Dwell?
Also for the first time in history, the most advanced architectural ideas (Wright’s at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th) were used to solve the problem of dwelling for everyman.

*Man is Not at the Center.
The concept of “inside” changed with Wright, from that of refuge to that of a fixed point in space and time from which humans could experience a new sense of freedom and participation in the world.  At this point in space, Wright typically placed a great fireplace and vertical chimney, an element that symbolized the forces and order of nature.
*Personal Identity.
Wright’s domestic architecture solved the problem of expressing personal identity in a newly mobile and connected world with a new interpretation of roof, wall and opening.
Now we come to the reality of our own work. Wright’s revolutionary ideas, not fully understood in the culture even today, were meant to solve societal and architectural problems of 100 years ago.

It’s no secret that the solutions – the opportunities – we seek today through architecture at Arcosanti are not the same ones that Wright pursued. The context for architecture has changed from Wright’s time. We have access to new materials and technologies, billions more people, thus new problems with energy and water and pollution and relationship.

And now we hope to develop viable solutions to the question “How Shall We Live?” for our own time. We have an urban laboratory at Arcosanti, testing ideas that must help the next generation answer that question.

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, whose book title “Infinite In All Directions” might well describe the spatial experience of Taliesin and the ecological experience at Arcosanti, points out that when Paolo Soleri was born there were 3 species of elementary particles in Physics; ninety years later we have found 61 elementary particles and count on discovering more. Such discoveries are made on the basis of what we already know. What we have gained from Soleri’s lived experience with Wright, and now gain from the experience at Arcosanti, should lead to discovery. We’re counting on it.