Given the unique life of the Aconauts some have suggested making Arcosanti life into a Reality TV show. I have discussed this with various people over the years (such as David Tollas and Doctress Neutopia) but this is the first time that I can recall that I am talking about it here. I wanted to discuss that a bit here as it has come up again and I would like to encourage people to look at and consider what this might actually entail.
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.
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
My view is that we are at an interesting intersecting of events and ideas as well as experiences. Possibly this is the real meaning of the 2012 prophesy? And I know all the skeptics and how they say the predictions are not accurate. I am not an expert on all of this, but what I know is that we have a lot of people who in history and throughout it seemed to attach a lot of significance to these days in which we now find ourselves together in. I feel this also intuitively and I know many others in this world share my feelings.
Last Saturday, Cosanti Foundation president Jeff Stein presented at an event organized by a group based in SF called TEDxMission. The name of this particular event was called TEDxMission 2.0 The City. It featured discussions with leaders in the sustainability field. There was a specific focus on innovative ideas and technologies relating to urban design (and particularly in terms of the Bay Area): “to share the powerful narratives of urban innovators and organizers, stewards and artists, builders and tastemakers.”
Besides Stein, the other speakers I recognized were (my thought is that these people could be a potential network resource for making Arcosanti more sustainable):
- Brock Dolman is a permaculture expert who is well known on the west coast. He is a Occidential Arts & Ecology Center Lecturer (OAEC) in Occidental CA and a guest lecturer at the Regenerative Design Institute in nearby Bolinas. Sewing Circle is an intentional community small ecovillage/intentional community that is interwoven with OAEC similar to the way Cosanti Foundation is with Cosanti Originals at Arcosanti.
- Geoff Lawton excited a lot of people by what he was able to achieve in Jordan on a dryland permaculture project that showed much was possible even in a very desolate desert environment. Considering the challenge that Arcosanti faces in growing food in a similar climate, he might be a great link towards increasing agricultural productivity.
- James Hanusa has been active in the Bay Area Sustainability community. We crossed paths via the Global Summit 2010 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Currently he is CEO of the Urban Innovation Exchange a SF “economic development organization that co-creates innovation ecosystems rooted in sustainability and culture with an experiential approach.” Most recently according to their website, they enabled a design charette between Rio and San Francisco for the Bay2Rio+20 Group. Hanusa is doing work that seems to fit well with Michael Gosney’s presentation to TEDxMission at an earlier event: “Designing the Control Panel for Spaceship Earth“.