In 2000 when I was a resident at Arcosanti, I enrolled in the first Ecosa Institute, Total Immersion Seminar on Ecological Design. This was 4 month program that gave me a deep understanding of the green movement as it pertains to creating change through marketplace driven activities that revolve around green business and architecture, rather than political or social activism (which is not to say that it is exclusive of those things either).
After a long trip from MA to AZ by car, I finally arrived at my destination: Cosanti in the Phoenix suburbs to begin a discussion about how the alumni of the Arcosanti Workshop Program could become more involved in moving the Arcosanti project forward in a decisive way. It also included those from the Cosanti Apprenticeship Program, which ended in 1970.
About 150 people participated and they ranged in age from 92 to 20. While there was an element that involved the honoring of Soleri, it also included several sessions to discuss the way forward and possible ways that alumni could support the further development of Arcosanti. The first day focused on giving a space and a soapbox for members to express their views on things in a more general way and then ended with a panel discussion of local experts familiar with Soleri which I missed.
James Carnahan, who did a workshop in May 1972 as was on Staff from 1972-77 was introduced to the group. He had worked with Jeff Stein on preparing the sessions and brining in professional facilitators to help us guide the process in an effective way. While I was skeptical at first about this it seemed it worked rather well and folks generally seemed rather pleased on the outcome of this event and were looking forward to getting down to business.
Event Discussion Agenda – A draft agenda was put together that basically went along these lines:
- Friday, September 20, 1pm to 4 at Cosanti Foundation: The Legacy of Paolo Soleri – what are the important ideas and how can they be implemented locally and globally?
- Saturday, 9am to noon at Arcosanti, two broad topics:
- How might Arcosanti function in the future?
- Discuss organizational forms suitable for implementation of the ideas coming out of Friday’s conversation.
- Sunday, 8am to 10am at Arcosanti: What role(s) can the alumni continue to play in support of the various missions, goals & objectives we have been talking about?
The following content I cobbled together based on my incomplete notes so I probably missed a lot of good stuff. Its my attempt to compile a set of reports on each of the three days we participated in this event together. If you have any suggestions, additions or corrections, please let me know by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve had a stream of documentaries coming out or being worked on about Soleri and they probably all help to give different and possibly valuable insights about Soleri and his lifework.
Most recently an Italian-American magazine called The American in Italia presented the story of Lisa Scafuro who has been devoting much of her life to another video about Soleri titled The Vision of Paolo Soleri: the Prophet in the Desert.
I’m not sure how this movie portrayed Soleri or Arcosanti but I suspect its another Soleri-centric documentary. I’m still hankering for a true to life documentary and not a PR piece that just shows us the best of Soleri – as many of the documentaries I’ve seen seem to gravitate towards. I’d also like to see more efforts at documenting the many incredible stories of the people that lived at and made Arcosanti Arizona. This leads me to consider some of the deeper issues that may have prevented Arcosanti from being a place where many great minds could have come together to create Arcosanti Critical Mass much sooner than now seems possible.
I am in Arkansas now and considering the long travel ahead of me to get to Arcosanti and the Memorial for Paolo Soleri. For a long time, I discounted my coming to this event due to financial concerns and other priorities.
What led to the change was the thought that there is chance that something important can be developed for the future of the project. I figured what the hell, its not often I get to be with 150 other people who care enough of Soleri’s vision and dream to come back to a place they once called home – even if for a very short time.
I have also been posting a lot online and privately with a discussion that was initiated by one of the Alum to a list of some of the people attending.
I have also been considering how to formally link Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri with the organization I am trying to get off the ground with Jimi Carnazza – Full Circle Earth.
Arcosanti & Full Circle Earth: To Develop a KnowledgeBase for Compact Urban Themed Sustainable Habitat Development
What I have come up with is a statement on the role of Arcosanti in bringing two of the founders of this organization together and to consider some of the things that can be done to promote Arcosanti and Arcology on a practical level. The reality is that incorporating Arcology theory into practical practice is not an easy thing to do and this is why so few have done it – that I am aware of at least. To consider an applied Arcology model or even a theoretical framework for the dissemination of this idea, we need to form and build networks with the mix of people needed to actually build such a prototype. In this process, we need to reconsider what Soleri meant by Arcology. We also need to explore how he wanted to implement the first one at Arcosanti as a prototype. So as we consider sustainability and Arcology on a practical level, a lot of questions are going to have to be answered. Its definitely not a job I think we can do alone so if anyone reading has any interest in what I am writing about please contact me (Jeff Buderer: email@example.com).
(Re)formulating Arcosanti: The Alternative Arcosanti Project as an Start-up KnowledgeBase for Building Sustainable Arcology Themed Developments
So far I have created a wiki called the Alternative Arcosanti Project. Its work in progress – a mish-mash of what I thought were some core ideas of how to or what to consider in (Re)Formulating Arcosanti. So I proposed the name “Arcosanti Reformation Project” as one possible title for the group, rather than just something generic like the Arcosanti Alumni Group.
At the end of his life Soleri talked about the need for something more fundamental in society than incremental reform which seems almost everyone would agree has gotten the progressive no where in terms of improving the overall socioeconomic dynamics of society. Yes Soleri had become a critic of the reform movement and saw it as a failure. That we are not moving forward as a society corruption seems to be growing. Such a trend and relationship between corruption of the society and workshop of money and power as ends to themselves seem very predictable when looking at historical trends. Soleri warned us about the unhealthy worship of money and materials values.
To Create Change You Must BE The Change
Our critical mind might wonder whether Arcosant itself could not have taken more of a leadership in being a model for a more sustainable urban habitat? So my suggestion is that by calling any movement to reform Arcosanti, a (Re)formulation process, we are putting Soleri’s very own prescriptions (or at least in the process considering some of concerns and trying to consider how a culture might be formed around these for building future societies) for fixing society and the world.
We are acknowledging what he had a problem with, while we are taking action where he seemed to be unable to act as a leader. We are empowered with the realization that we must first create a model of change most immediate to us, especially before lecturing the larger society about what is wrong with it. We must be a model of the change we want to see by figuring out how to put those ideals we hold dear into practical practice in our lives – in order to be taken seriously.
So in order for Soleri’s ideals and vision to survive of not just Arcosanti but Arcology itself, we must see that Arcosanti and Arcology must be reformatted or reformulated. From that process what needs to emerge is:
- A solid, consistent and compassionate ideology for changing not just the built environment but the very nature of what we see as our humanity.
- This ideology must not be classroom and neither should it be workplace based.
- The success of the movement will be based on the development of powerful human relationships and bonds within the process of living and working together to build the Worlds First Prototype Arcology.
In the above-mentioned process an “Arcology Ideology” can be truly birthed as something that is not seeking to impose things on people as one person’s ego-centric impulse, but getting us to more deeply to think about how we might actually work together effectively with others as part of their shared interest in “building” a healthy and prosperous humanity.
Notes and References
- Please see Reformulation vs Reform for more about this on my EdenSpace Project Wiki: https://sites.google.com/site/edenspaceproject/terms-definitions/reformulation
Earlier in the year I considered going to the Ecocities Conference taking place in Sept in Nantes France. I worked with Libby Hubbard (AKA Doctress Neutopia) on a submission to the event.
We explored the limited evidence of success in which even a broad definition of EcoCity can be applied. In response to the slow growth of EcoCities, conference organizers seemed to be taking steps to bring in people and ideas that might enable a discussion of how to build a ecocity that might eventually bring in larger scale redevelopment players. Yet it is the case that many of these so called big time players who as decision-makers mold our modern cities are the ones that resist the needed changes. Conventional environmental and planning actors have been hobbled, humbled and in many cases made jaded by the largeness of the task at hand to transform the human built environment and to do so in very short period of time. In response they have tended to see incremental reform as the only realistic option to create practical change. Could it be that the only real long term solution is to build smaller, more human scale built environments arranged along ecological principles and resize the city more in the range of the Greek city state?
The idea of Arcosanti being rated again and again on the “ten best utopias/hippie communes/failed utopias/etc…” in the media opens up a can of worms, because Soleri would often get upset when Arcosanti Arizona and Utopia would used in relation to each other (Like for example: Is Arcosanti a utopian experiment?).
One of the challenges in the past is that it seemed easier to say what Arcosanti wasn’t rather than clearly articulate what it was. Sure its a construction site and urban lab, but these became seen as hollow terms as the roaring fire of life and construction at Arcosanti in the 70s burned out to a mere flicker of its former self. Thus can we blame critical thinking left leaning intellectuals when they come to Arcosanti looking for a real alternative to suburban sprawl and overconsumption and leave wondering “where’s the beef?”
The growing gulf between the vision of Arcosanti as prototype Arcology and the actual reality of project after 40 years of planning, only served to relegate it to utopian fantasy category. Yet to many coming to Arcosanti in the 70s it seemed that Soleri’s quest to build the “city of the future” with a bold vision combined with sweat and hard work seemed reachable and attainable.
A key question for the Memorial event on the Sept 20th should be: What generated and propelled the momentum and excitement that people involved in the project had in the 1970s and how possibly could Arcosanti and its supporters regain that?
Huff Post lists Arcosanti as one of its “Ten Best Utopias“. Arcosanti has been featured in various kinds of articles about (the ten best) utopias, communes or alternative projects numerous times. Writers seem to see something cool and then want to replicate it over and over in the media to the point where it begins to seem a bit repetitive and even pathetic.
Arcosanti’s founder Paolo Soleri never considered the project a utopia. He intended it as a experiment to test out his architectural and philosophical theory of a compact and sustainable city as an alternative to what he saw as the twin demons of modern American life: suburban sprawl and the needless overconsumption of resources.
While some of his notions might have been interpreted as utopian, he rejected the use of term in relation to his work. Key to this was the fact that he saw utopian thinking as a intellectual and academic pursuit out of touch with real work towards building a better and more effective society. In the 70s, Soleri was able to create a sense of excitement among the youth who traveled to Arcosanti seeking to build the city of the future. At the time people really believed they were doing it. While that momentum has long left the project, Soleri never completely abandoned the belief that he was building a real and compelling alternative to sprawl and overconsumption. Indeed if you put Arcosanti and utopia in the same sentence, when asking him a question – a polemic against Utopia and why Arcosanti is not such a odious thing – could be expected.
So I find it interesting and a bit ironic that now after his death I am seeing so many of these kinds of articles. In fact I never knew what Arcosanti really was while I was there. Oftentimes it is much easier to say what we’re not than to figure out what we really are. The official line commonly told to people in an attempt to clear the air, was that Arcosanti was not an intentional community, not a commune, not an ecovillage, definitely not a utopia…
In all fairness there was an attempt to say what Arcosanti was: a construction site for the promotion of Paolo Soleri’s vision of Arcology – an urban laboratory (that really was not all that urban except for the fact that its 60 or so residents lived relatively close together in multifamily housing and shared apartments) is what he called it.
The whole fear of being associated with those labels may have been more about mainstream misconceptions of those terms than the terms themselves, but Soleri himself seemed to want to keep the project more focused on himself and his work rather than making it more of a community or collaborative effort. This may explain to a large degree that despite his desire to make Arcosanti into a 5000 person EcoCity prototype for his compact and integrated future city thinking (called Arcology), it never got beyond the 70-80 people stage. Even though he had a vision of transforming the world with his particular “branded” idea of technology and architecture (Arcology) that was similar to other more famous icons of our age like Elon Musk, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walt Disney or Steve Jobs, he was unable or unwilling to surround himself with the brain trust of people and to make the practical financial decisions needed to make his grand vision of Arcosanti real.
After leaving Arcosanti, Jimi has been working as a educational consultant helping special needs children and adults develop life skills. In addition, he has asked me to help him start a nonprofit called Full Circle Earth (FCE). We officially established the non profit in the state of MA in August of last year and are now working on 501c3 status with the IRS. I was one of the three founding board members and currently serve on the board.
The mission of FCE is to raise awareness of the ways to increase the availability of locally produced, healthy and organic food. Our work centers on an effort to establish a training and educational center to sustainable living and food production. This includes a greenhouse and surrounding integrated food production systems as well as agricultural plots. This capstone/flagship project of FCE will feature key emergent technologies such as aquaponics, wormcomposting, biogas production, compost tea making, rainwater collection, the use of earth building techniques and other appropriate tech.
Flavio Borrelli and His Struggle as an Architect and Artist to Break Free from the Ordinary & Conventional in Society
In May, I traveled to several regions of Europe including Napoli, Italy, where I had the chance to meet Flavio Borrelli again.
A high point of my time at Arcosanti was when a group of us (which included Flavio) would regularly gather behind the Workshop Dorms in the East Crescent after dinner. During that time, we had many wonderful discussions about the things and passions that brought us to Arcosanti.
Flavio and Antonio Chelen Guerra were the lead instigators on the Snake Path (or was it snake pit?). This name stuck, because it moved like a snake from the Minds Garden into the adjacent cliff which towers over the Aqua Fria River (one of the best views at Arcosanti).
The project was controversial because Antonio and Flavio did not follow what the Arcosanti leadership saw as the “proper procedures.” The pace of doing anything at Arcosanti has become very slow. Much of this was out of fear of offending Paolo Soleri or making some mistake which might make the project seem like a laughingstock. Now that Soleri has died many want to make sure we honor his will. But possibly, we can honor him without worrying too much about whether he would approve or not of what we are doing.
During my visit with Flavio, it was hard to avoid the moral and economic crisis in Italy and Europe. Unemployment is high and economic prospects are low. While unemployment is 11.5 percent among the whole society for those under 25 – its around 40 percent. A staggering number and I saw how it affected Flavio and also Simone my friend who I had visited later in Milan. Both live with their parents and job prospects for them are bleak.
Napoli was of the cities in Europe that seemed very much in a struggle with a economy that in severe downturn. Flavio expressed a concern about the state of the economy and lack of opportunity in Southern Europe. While no one would or does really say these countries are in depression, its safe to say that its the worst economic conditions they have faced since WW2 and people are pretty overwhelmed and depressed about the situation.
Yet I saw a glimmer of hope in Flavio’s work. It made me consider the possibility that our creativity and ability to innovate is the real solution to these kinds of economic depressions and the general morass that faces humanity now.
For what is happening in Italy and Southern Europe may well be part of a larger contagion of the human spirit that will eventually spread and infect all of humanity. How we deal with this loss of faith in modern institutions will determine our destiny as a species. Its really a reflection of the loss of purpose, passion and deep drive in the modern world and its belief system. I believe our creative ability to innovate and adapt to challenging situations is the real solution to these kinds of economic depressions not praying for more economic growth and jobs from the power brokers of the global economy.
The pictures here are from the backyard of his Uncle’s house which he is helping to remodel.
One of things that Flavio is doing is refining and developing his own take on Paolo Soleri’s silt casting technique that he learned at Arcosanti.
Soleri used the silt casting technique to make the ceramic bells at Cosanti and then Arcosanti – as a source of income to support his work and vision. He also applied the silt casting technique to the making of concrete precast and poured in place panels in the construction of Arcosanti and Cosanti.
Flavio spoke to me about how he applied and modified this technique. He showed me the material he used and it looked like soil – it was black in color and very different in appearance in the silt I had used at Arcosanti. Silt of course can come in different colors other than the familiar “Southwest Adobe Brick Red” I was familiar with. According to the WikiPedia page on Silt:
The “silt” is placed around the form which is made of wood and then once the desire design is in place, color can be added in the form of powdery pigment. Sometimes the pigment is mixed with water to form many different colors.
In 1984, Paolo Soleri published a book with longtime associate and Arcosanti resident Scott M Davis called Earth Casting that explains his silt casting technique in great detail. Silt is used as a molding material that adds a natural element to concrete. To do an Earth Cast the first step is to get the silt and make sure it is the desired consistency. There are many difference ways of adding to silt to concrete. Usually you will add the silt between the form and where the concrete or plaster is to be poured. Once the desired design is in place, color can be added to the silt by using pigment. The pigments are bought in several base colors as powders. Water is added to the powder to make the pigment so it can be painted onto the silt. Once the water is added to make a liquid, the base or primary colors can be mixed together to get the desired color. Then the pigment is applied to the silt with a brush and allowed to dry. After its dry, a slurry coat can be added to protect the silt cast, during the concrete pour. The concrete pouring concrete should be conscious of the delicacy of the silt cast, because at Arcosanti there are examples of where the silt cast was damaged giving a permanent impression on he ceiling of the crushing of the silt cast. Usually after the pour, we will wait about two weeks until the concrete is strong enough and then remove the form work and see how well the silt cast fared.
What we can see with Flavio’s work is not only the notable talent and creativity, but also a willingness to be creative and different. The panel’s takes Soleri’s concept of creating colorful and abstract panels made with silt to new levels by introducing a whole new style to the technique that has been rarely copied in an artistically compelling way.
The challenge Arcosanti itself faces as it considers its future without its founder and primary driver for all of its history up to now, is how to both honor Soleri (without becoming a museum) and to encourage a culture that embraces (rather than stifles and discouraging it) the creative talent of people like Flavio Borrell and Antonio Chelen to create a new story for Arcosanti in the “Post-Soleri Era.”
May we who are inspired by the work and life of Paolo Soleri, consider such efforts as inspirations in our lives to build a reality of creative work that builds on the legacy of Paolo Soleri.
If we think big and work relentlessly to create the physical and practical reality of that creation, we may indeed be humbled by the possibility of our creation and how that propels us to greatness.
You can see more images of Flavio’s work here
Greenhouse MA Community College Greenhouse: Pushing the State of the Art in Sustainable Greenhouse Design?
Recently I have been discussing ideas on how to effectively move forward the Arcosanti Energy Apron Greenhouse Project with David Tollas and other Arcosanti Workshop Alumni on Facebook. This was a discussion David initiated to discuss some of the challenges he was facing in getting the project completed as planned.
Last night, Eric Fedus just made me aware of an advanced greenhouse that incorporates state of the art integrated systems for maximum performance in sustainability. Its Just north of where I am now (Williamsberg MA). The Greenfield Community College Greenhouse is a nearly 600k project that includes a 400k DOE grant and also a large individual donation of 200k.
This project is an example of my assertion in the discussion that research does not always have to be tied to financial sustainability. While that should ultimately the goal of any projects work it may not lie directly in the scope of it. In the case of this project, it sought to demonstrate how its possible to build a greenhouse that provides an ideal growing environment for plants without the use of fossil fuels or other energy sources that emit CO2 into the environment – a Net Zero building.
The design of the project is also noteworthy because it does incorporate something similar to what the Arcosanti greenhouse design calls for: to design a slope to the greenhouse for cooling. This allows a natural airflow to develop between the top and bottom of the structure so that the cooler air coming into the greenhouse moves up as it heats, resulting in a cooling effect that minimizes the use of active air cooling systems that require moving parts and the use electricity.
Besides the design to stimulate a natural airflow, it also includes the integration of infrastructure for photovoltaic, solar thermal and geothermal systems.
In the PR from the college about the facility, GCC President Robert L. Pura states that the project:
will be a demonstration teaching and learning space for our Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Program, support Horticulture and Botany classes and any future coursework in Sustainable Agriculture, and provide another lifelong learning resource for community members through our Community Education Department.
The building was designed by NPS Architects, but the actual engineering systems seem to be engineered by a group from the Wentworth Institute of Technology. This group wrote a paper from 2008 that outlined the basic concept and the engineering behind it titled: DESIGN OF A CARBON NEUTRAL GREENHOUSE FOR GREENFIELD COMMUNITY COLLEGE.
A key question that often comes up with these kinds of project is whether it really had to cost this much to demonstrate a sustainable greenhouse design. The Solviva Greenhouse for example also provided similar designs and for considerably less cost.