Studio Visit: Paolo Soleri

Soleri at Arcosanti, in a garden area dedicated to the memory of his wife, Colly Soleri. Last month, Scottsdale, Ariz., dedicated a bridge and plaza that Soleri designed for the Arizona Canal. The festivities included talks by Will Bruder, AIA, and Alan Hess and an exhibit at the city’s contemporary art museum.

The Arcosanti complex exemplifies Soleri’s concept of Arcology, or the fusion of architecture and ecology. It sits on an 860-acre property, adjacent to the 71,000-acre Agua Fria National Monument. Many of Arcosanti’s 50 or so employees and volunteers live on site full-time, giving tours and workshops, constructing new buildings, and fabricating sculptural bronze and ceramic bells that are a major source of revenue.

Soleri eats lunch in the café on the second floor of the mixed-use Crafts III building. Crafts III was constructed from 1972–77 to serve as a visitors center. It incorporates a gallery on the fourth floor, a bakery on the third, and housing on the first.

The south-facing Foundry Apse was completed in 1974. A fabric screen provides additional shade, while exhaust heat from the furnace warms adjacent living quarters on cold winter nights. Further up the hillside is a second apse for making ceramics.

Soleri spent 1947–50 as an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright at both Taliesin East in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona. During that time, he met his late wife, Colly; her father was one of Soleri’s first clients. After a brief stint back in Italy, the Soleris returned to Arizona for good in 1955 and began to build the Cosanti complex. The Ceramics Studio dates to 1958. Its earth-cast concrete shell incorporates a skylight with Wrightian geometry.

The below-grade, skylit Cosanti Gallery was constructed in 1961 by pouring concrete over a sculpted mound of earth, then excavating the soil once the concrete had hardened.

Inside the Barrel Vaults & Pumpkin Apse (1968-69) at Cosanti. A Plexiglas model of Arcosanti, built for a 1970 exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is in the right foreground.

The Ceramics Apse at Arcosanti, finished in 1973. Ceramic bells and tiles are produced here.

Interior of east residence above Arcosanti foundry, constructed 1973. Waste heat from foundry furnaces below is channeled through the interior bench to help radiantly heat the apartments during the cold season. (Thanks to Roger Tomalty and Mary Hoadley of Arcosanti for caption information.)

The Crafts III building, Arcosanti.

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