Architectural Students Visit Arcosanti

Recently architect Mattias Hollwich of New York based HollwickKushner (HWKN) toured Arcosanti with several architectural students from the East Coast. At the end of the tour he mentioned one of his projects Architizer; a social networking site for architects.

One of the issues that was on his mind after participating in Wed’s School of Thought and also with my brief discussion with him was that the monolithic design of Arcology as put forward by Paolo Soleri does not seem to address the issue of cities evolving culturally and the architecture evolving along with it.

He in particular was concerned about how a city could evolve within say the Lean Linear City.

When you design Arcology as one big city and seek to build all at once with one unifying design you are basically implying that the architecture will be monolithic. What that means is that the individual architectural impulse as a iteration of the cultural dynamic of that city is subsumed into the mass mind and takes the form of the modern architect and his team of experts who are designated in this case to build an Arcology.

So how do we get around this? In going to Taiwan what I found was that the cultural dynamic is like second nature. It is very difficult to change the cultural dynamic as it has a momentum around it. This is where many modernization efforts fail because they do not consider or respect the indigenous influence on the people who evolve the urban cultural and what becomes the fabric of urban life.

In the US in particular, as the need for the modern city has emerged and rapidly evolved with exponential growth, the planners and designers quickly gave up on making the dense city work as it did not fit with their ethos. This was made only worse when people Frank L Wright (Soleri’s mentor)  sought to promote low density alternatives to the dense modern urban city, which of course was relatively young in the first place, in the form of such models like BroadAcre City.

The result was a hand wringing about the need for an alternative to the dense urban core that led to a series of complementary and synergistic positive feedbacks, which led to the rapidly development of the American Dream in the form of suburban living. Now the Americentic view allows us to assume this is the only way to do it, when in fact cities around the world have continued to invest in a dense urban core that in many cases dominates the whole urban space as is the case in Taiwan.

Soleri in offering an alternative in relation to his Arcology needs to do better to explain how Arcology will create an Accelerated Urban Effect, sidestepping the associations with a monolithic form that the project design lends itself to. Because indeed the vitality of the dense urban core of a city is almost always linked the cultural diversity that it emerges from and is reinforced by.

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