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Friday, September 27, 2013

Paolo Soleri

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was born in Turin, Italy, and worked in the United States as an architect, urban designer artist, craftsman and philosopher. He received a Ph.D. in architecture from the Polytechnic University of Turin.

In 1947 he moved to Arizona to apprentice for 18 months with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. In 1949 he and Mark Mills designed the Dome House in Cave Creek, Arizona. The house was made of cast concrete and natural stone and had a sunken living room and a glass dome overlooking the desert. Interestingly, he married that client's daughter.

In 1950 he and his wife were traveling in Italy, and Soleri was offered a job designing a ceramics factory. After that project was complete, the couple returned to Arizona and designed a studio, gallery and foundry near Scottsdale. In the late 1960s, Soleri purchased 860 acres of desert north of Phoenix and began building the experimental town of Arcosanti.

He became a counterculture hero because he didn't just theorize about a town that minimized energy use and encouraged human interaction. "Soleri went out into the desert and actually built his vision with his own hands," said Jeffrey Cook, professor of architecture at Arizona State University, in a 2001 interview. His work proved that there was an alternative to corporate modernism.

Arcosanti, as it was envisioned, was based on a concept Soleri called arcology, a combination of architecture and ecology. The idea was to create a beehive complex where human activity is concentrated in a small area.

Soleri believed that modern society should build up, not out. He said in an interview in the Arizona Republic in 2011:

The problem is the present design of cities only a few stories high, stretching outward in unwieldy sprawl for miles. As a result of their sprawl, they literally transform the Earth, turning farms into parking lots, and waste enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods and services over their expanses.

To help finance Arcosanti, Soleri began designing and selling Soleri bells, cast-bronze or ceramic wind bells that have a uniquely pure tone.  However, since 1970, less than 5 percent of the buildings have been completed, and only 55 people live there. Still, over 7,000 students have participated in the building, and more than 50,000 people visit the site each year.

In addition to the Dome House, Soleri's commissions included the Artistica Ceramica Solimene ceramics factory in Vietri, Italy, the Indian Arts Cultural Center/ Theatre in Santa Fe, the Glendale Community College Theater, the University of Arizona College of Medicine chapel, the Scottsdale Pedestrian Bridge and Plaza; and his latest bas-relief murals part of the new I-17 Arcosanti/Cordes Junction Arizona traffic interchange.

Soleri has been awarded gold medals from the American Institute of Architects, the Union of International Architects, the Venice Biennale and the National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Museum.

From,, and

Artistica Ceramica Solimene ceramics factory in Vietri, Italy

Dome House in Cave Creek, Arizona

Scottsdale Pedestrian Bridge and Plaza in Scottsdale, Arizona

Arcosanti plans

Arcosanti, Arizona

Soleri bells

Bronze wind bell No. 128

Ceramic wind bell No. 707

Special Soleri bells, called cause bells, are created to commemorate a special event or celebrate a cause. Below is the Earth Bell, which was inspired by Earth Day 1990 and was dedicated to the conservation of natural resources, support of recycling and the preservation of our planet for future generations.

Earth Bell


  1. Thank you Dana. As someone new to Solari this was very informative. As it turns out the Chapel in Tucson will be part of Tucson Modernism Week Home Tour this week! It's beautiful! You can catch a glimpse of it at - go to the schedule page and then the home tour link. They will also be showing a film as part of the events over the weekend. Very timely post!

    1. I'm sure the event will be fantastic. There's so much to see and do!

  2. Thank you, Dana, I wasn't very familiar with the work of Solari, this was very inspiring and makes me want to explore more! Love those idealists with their grand scale plans. How amazing that Soleri actually went ahead and started building his. Most of them don't extend beyond the drawing table, but you gotta admire their visions to change our society. I'm so glad Le Corbusier's city planning visions never materialized, but that's a whole other story...
    I'd love to see more of his Dome house and visit Arcosanti!

    1. I think it's very interesting that he started making the bells to finance Arcosanti. He was a dreamer with a huge streak of pragmatism, wasn't he?