Those values make sense to me from an ethical/moral/spiritual standpoint. They're precisely the values it is hoped or believed arcology will promote, the values Arcosanti can and will help impel.
The values of arcology are important if there is a drive, an imperative, to demonstrate its usefulness; which is why I was pleased to come across an essay that I'd begun writing some ten years ago about the culture of arcology that I saw manifest at Arcosanti at that time.
That essay, in several parts, I'm confiding here in its entirety.
More than 7000 people have worked and lived at Arcosanti over the course of its 'lifetime' to date. They range in age from infancy, youth, adult, middle age, to elderly. Their individual and collective backgrounds, experience and intentions are varied. They were raised, have lived, worked, and studied in countries over much of the world across a broad spectrum of disciplines including Humanities and Sciences, in Anthropology, Geography, Music, Education, Business, Social Work, Engineering, Fine Arts, Crafts, Biology, Architecture, et al. Name a field, chances are there's an Arconaut in it.
What they hold in common is respect for Paolo Soleri, along with a regard for the promise of the "urban laboratory" called Arcosanti.
I had an idea about bringing people together as a work/study group that would pool ideas, energy, resources, disciplines. My particular hope was to amass them so that I could research and write a cultural study of Arcosanti. That ambition emerged not just from my wanting to trace and keep tabs on Arcosanti's constituency, I also had a simple expectation that an academically rational critique, open to review, would aid and abet the continued growth of Arcosanti, make it more available to those most in need of it. The size of that group, I felt, is a very large number indeed, particularly across the developing world. Where in the world is "arcology" NOT needed?
The study would, I decided, be an ethnographic one that would make use of a Material Culture perspective, defined as a field of study concerned with:
- What methods of analysis should be employed or developed in order to produce documentation of learning processes evolving from activities based on sensuous orientation where the process is constantly a symbiosis between concrete action and theoretical reflection;
- How the formation of Self and Identity develop during the process of the making and creating of material objects. [vi]
In 2003, seven of the major institutions comprising North America’s art and cultural establishment acknowledged Paolo Soleri's status as master of architectural design. They (MoMA, the National Gallery, the Getty, CCA, Taliesin, Eastman House, the Smithsonian) agreed to serve on a standing advisory committee to the Soleri Archives, the collection of Soleri’s works housed and still being inventoried at Arcosanti.
Soleri’s merit as an artist may be acknowledged but his writing [i] is not nearly so transparently recognized. As moral discourse, his vocabulary is replete with borrowings not referenced in his writing that are germane to that concern.
Self-transcendence, for example, is a frequent Soleri phrase, brings to my mind Erik Erikson’s theory of psycho-social development, Erickson's view that a criterion of self-transcendence is definitive of mature personal (i.e., fully human, ethical) development.
The realm of morality, with questions like “What is ‘right’?” and “What is ‘wrong’?” “What is ‘good’?” “What is ‘evil’?”) is significant to all people, no matter their era, socio-economic status and/or cultural background. That is because human history is the story of conflicts and the outcomes of conflicts between opposing forces. Dialectical considerations such as conflict identification and conflict resolution are important issues, impact upon how we perceive human social organization. Confronted with social conflicts, despite or in spite of ourselves, morality matters. Therefore we must ask: What is the ‘it’ we call ‘morality’ and how does it affect us all?
Harrod [ii] says 'morality' incorporates three interrelated concerns:
- The conviction that an essential ingredient of what is meant by “human” is a hunger for meaning at levels that transcend individual existence. This implies
- The importance of the 'human center,' described as “the power of consciousness to form and re-form a world in association with others.”[iii]
- The outcome of this urge is the desire to draw others into a field of personal consciousness and attempt to develop the outlines of a view of social reality within which action governed by moral intentions can be understood.
*Background – What About Paolo Soleri?
Soleri was born and raised in Italy. A war objector, he did serve in the army in his native Italy during WWII but was opposed to fighting and left Italy, went across the border into France. After the war ended, he finished architecture school (a PhD with highest honors at the Polytechnic Institute of Torino), won a prestigious competition (an award for a bridge he designed), then was came to the USA with a scholarship to study under Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon leaving Wright’s atelier, he met and married Corolyn (“Colly”) Woods, an American from Pittsburgh, brought her to Italy where they designed and built a ceramics factory for the Solamene family on the Amalfi coast. They returned to the USA, lived briefly in New Mexico, then settled in Arizona where they raised their two daughters while developing their craft business. Although they experimented in New Mexico with textiles, their sculptured clay and bronze wind bells craft industry in Arizona was successful enough to free Soleri from the usual constraint of having to solicit clients, enabled him to devote his energies to drawing, writing, model building, and construction on their five-acre property, which they called Cosanti. They established a 501-3C educational non-profit Foundation to co-ordinate, administer and develop a workshop program similar to Wright`s but based entirely on Soleri’s philosophy of design.
Throughout his life, Soleri was preoccupied with the immorality of what he took to be consumerism. His quiet, consistently impassioned response to the conspicuous consumption he witnessed overwhelming his adopted land was to try to integrate and codify his personal philosophy. Turning it into a material artifact he called ‘frugality’ Soleri began to build a place for his “Lean Hypothesis” to be carried out. That place, Arcosanti, the ‘Lean Alternative’ labeled an ‘urban laboratory’ by Ada Louise Huxtable when she was architecture critic of The New York Times, is in the high desert at Arizona’s geographic epicenter. Construction on its 800 acres of ‘marginal’ land is still underway, has been since ground was first broken in 1970. Originally conceived as providing habitat for up to 5000 people, barely 3% of the total plan (there are actually numbers of drawings and models of possible schemata for its physical structures) has been constructed. That completed area, which Soleri called "The Old Town," houses less than 100 people.
*Context and Conflict
Many people around the globe agree with Soleri's central point. Hyper-consumerism is a serious problem of global concern. Although he shunned most market-based schema to attract people, statistically some 50,000-80,000 per year visit Arcosanti and Cosanti. Over 6,000 (18 years of age, many of them students at the time of their stay) have volunteered their labor to the 'Arcosanti workshop program' to the benefit of ongoing construction, maintenance, upkeep and repair of Arcosanti, especially its permanent structures. The Arcosanti Workshop program is still a mainstay of its overall programming. Over the course of Soleri's own lifetime, the workshoppers' labor appears to have had little immediate impact on the administrative infrastructure. That issue will be addressed in a review of Arcosanti's history. ,
The moral dilemma to which Soleri insists Arcosanti is an answer is not new or strange. To the contrary: it is the immemorial stuff to which the Great Traditions, the main strands of the world’s long-enduring religious teachings including the Mosaic (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Bahai), Buddhism, Hinduism, et al, all make cogent responses.
What distinguishes Soleri’s response to the moral quandary posed by materialism? Is it simply his patent rejection of all of the Great Traditions, practically in their entirety?
Dismissing them as “animism,” Soleri was convinced his Lean Alternative is a reasonable – in fact the only rational alternative to 'what he dismissed as "theological constructs." But while it is possible the Lean Alternative demonstrated by Arcosanti could attract more converts – preferably at least a few wealthy ones, as Soleri on occasion suggested should be the case, he persevered with only a modest number of enthusiasts directly supporting him. Arcosanti’s year-round population has numbered less than 100 since the early 1980s. The reasons for this will be also addressed in a review of Arcosanti history.
Soleri sought out but did not fight for academic approval of his idea, nor for his methodology, an iconoclasm from which he might have diverged. A critique I'd prefer to undertake will examine the range, substance and effects of moral discourse on the material culture construction of Arcosanti. It will utilize the concerns of a range of subject areas across a number of disciplines including Anthropology, Transcultural Psychiatry, Social Work, Urban Development, Fine Arts, Architecture, et al.
One difficulty not met or elaborated upon by Soleri is that moral systems readily engender conflicting points of view. Urban economist, writer and activist-observer Jane Jacobs [iv] who was also critical of the abandonment of cities, noted conflict between two moral syndromes she identified as: a) ‘commercial’ (a morality for people engaged in commerce); b) ‘guardian’ (a morality for people in government and the military).
Jacobs said both those moral syndromes contain opposing principles: people in government are expected to avoid trade and be loyal, serve the institution they belong to; people in commerce are expected to engage in trade. These are competing moralities. Although the conflict between the commercial and guardian camps has been repeatedly demonstrated in the USA over time, an oligarchic culture increasingly blurs those boundaries. Oklahoma passes a law taxing solar power users. The US Supreme Court declares it unnecessary to limit how much money individuals and/or corporations can give to politicians seeking election. That macrocosm is a contentious-enough arena, but I still find it surprising to see it replicated in a microcosmic one like Arcosanti. However, in 2003, both those two conflicting syndromes were in play at Arcosanti. Four of the fifteen individuals who served as Trustees of its governing body had their feet planted in the two opposing camps. In addition to serving on the Board of Trustees of the Cosanti Foundation (therefore subject to ‘guardian’ syndrome), they were also simultaneously employees of its for-profit arm (Cosanti Originals) or its non-profit head (Cosanti Foundation).
A further difficulty Soleri’s theorizing faces was his absolute belief in ‘the city’ as the apex of achievement for humankind. That argument is based on his vision of the Greek polis but must be confounded by the American city, all of which are relatively young and have evolved differently than the European ones which shaped Soleri’s youth. Small towns dominated much of the American landscape until the 20th century and, unlike Europe where cities fomented intellectual pursuits, to some extent it was those small towns which shaped progressive thinking in North America.
The great - some say the only - truly American philosopher, John Dewey, grew up in Burlington, VT, the population of which in 1880 was 11, 365 - quite a large number in its time. Other American cities in that era ranged in size from 300 to 10,000. In such settlements, where nearly everyone knew everyone else, the social norm, the model, in a general way was that an individual could know very well his/her own community and its people.
While that kind of intimacy might at times have been resented, it also produced a sense of belonging to a particular group, often likely one in which ‘neighborliness’ meant an informal network of mutual aid. The positive side of being with people who busied themselves with ‘minding everyone else's business’ was that illness or distress could be quickly known and quickly responded to. For example, Social Work pioneer Jane Addams noticed positive uses of village gossip: It kept men informed about who needed help while it also enabled them to assist those who did. In emerging American cities, particularly mega-cities, such informal channels of communication were prone to disappear. Along with them went the “easy neighborliness of Main Street.”[v]
Seen in this light, Soleri, while alert to economic development forces he saw influencing political decision-making (particularly the successful lobbying of the auto industry), managed to omit the social context in which the American post-war “flight from the city” occurred. He was not able to address this because (as he admitted) he was not a social critic. That is how his fervent denunciation of ex-urban and suburban development, an oft-articulated dominant theme in his descrying the state of the world. managed therefore to ignore the evidence that post-war cities were abandoned also because it was felt they were and could only be less than friendly places for children to grow up. Cities were seen as too busy, too cold, too fast, too poorly maintained, too dangerous. To a certain extent, some still are viewed that way.
Despite the consequences of various ensuing ill-considered urban renewal programs, the first post-war ‘garden’ communities of Holly Park (Seattle), Levittown (New York), and their ilk not only provided family housing for returning veterans proximate to industrial employment, they were attempts to re-create the small (albeit idealized) kinds of village communities that would let the ‘common people’ recover a cherished sense of intimacy that city life seemed almost to have effaced.
A second discontinuity stems from Soleri’s own social and psychological distance from the progressive or pragmatic ideologies emerging from the American small-town ethos. That ethos includes a positive emphasis on interest in community public affairs along with widespread participation in them; with a strong desire/need to promote feelings of intimacy; a sense of classlessness; as well as, after the advent of ‘Green’ politics, an inclination to embrace consensus models for social decision-making. It is that Green ethos which has, to a great extent, shaped the value systems of Soleri’s followers.
However, although he himself encountered it openly, he was passive about it, embraced it at best reluctantly, at worst with contempt. Soleri personally largely rejected attempts to increase or to incorporate adoption of particular social models into Arcosanti’s administration. He was simply not facile about nor eager to incorporate many specific humanistic principles into any design involving planning how the ‘village’ of Arcosanti would function.
Did residents show a tendency to reflect his rejection of incorporating planning schemata by being unable to consistently determine how to include it? Residents of Arcosanti's ‘Old Town’ and its gardens in 'Camp' have a Community Council which elects members for a six-month term. ArcCC handles instances of violence (there is a “no-violence” policy), noise (“no noise” after 9 pm weekdays, midnight Fridays and Saturdays unless special permission is sought and granted). Arc CC authority during Soleri's lifetime was limited to residential matters. What role it will play in a post-vivo Soleri environment has not been determined.
[i] Antoinetta Iolanda Lima, Soleri: Architecture as Human Ecology, Monacelli Press, 2003 What If? Collected Writings of Paolo Soleri
What If? Quaderni. Mayer, AZ: Arcosanti Publications, 2000-2004
[ii] Howard L. Harrod, “The Human Center: Moral Discourse in the Social World.” JRE: 5.2, Fall, 1977
[iii.i] Elemer Hankiss. Fears and Symbols: An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization. Budapest: Central European University Press. 2001
[iv] Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. New York: Vintage Books, 1992, p. 197
[v] Jean B. Quandt, From the Small Town to the Great Community: The Social Thought of Progressive Intellectuals. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970
[vi] Research seminar sponsored by Øresund University and Danish University of Education in 2003)
 Exacerbation of that symptom may have led to a mass resignation of others on the Board a few years later. The reason for that has not been conclusively determined. Jacobs' analysis of how ‘guardian’ individuals behave when subject to the ‘commercial’ syndrome does not include any case studies.