That query is not a trick question. There's no such thing as a "right" or "wrong" answer. It's asked simply because I am curious and want to know whether the encounter affects people, and if it does, how it does, in what way or ways. Oddly enough, though, so far, as questions go it's turned out to be one that's somehow tricky or at least fairly complex.
This may be due the under-appreciated fact that architecture as a phenomenon doesn't materialize without the application of human energy. Self-evident as that fact may be, It appears that the built environment is very much taken for granted even though it clearly does not/can not happen in a vacuum. The material environment takes the involvement of a broad spectrum of cultural mechanisms.
Underlying related, relevant questions such as: "What is architecture?" "What is the relevance of architecture?" were not immediately or simultaneously asked by me at the onset of the pilot study, an omission that has taken on a somewhat fateful character although omitting them initially was in part a consequence of my own experience as an architecture student. I'll explain:
Day One began with a statement by a professor who stood before the entire first year class to proclaim: "Architecture is your mistress." The four women in the class of twenty-odd mostly youngish folk spontaneously, almost inadvertently glanced at one another. I think we could not help but signal an individual consternation we collectively felt: How on earth are we to respond to that assertion? Is it lack of insight or lack of oversight that we have to address? Which comes first?
What I eventually decided was: lacking either one or the other or both cannot help but be consequential. It took a while but I can take full responsibility now for my omission and begin to address and redress my having overlooked those questions.
Because it will take some doing, I will start by flexing the discussion to include some provocative challenge to Paolo Soleri's idea of arcology, I'll start with a critique from MIT grad, 1963 Silt-Pile attendee Ben Rosenbloom, who cited that iconic and effective urban economist, Jane Jacobs.
"A City is Not a Work of Art," said Jane, a statement which Ben avowed sums up the problematic side of Paolo Soleri's urban design ideas as envisioned in the singular arcology drawings in his 1970 exhibition book, City In the Image of Man. Each one of those designs appears to be a work of art. But can they "work" as designs for city-minded people?
A timely critique, I thought: Jane Jacobs had been on my mind for several reasons. For one, I've the pleasure of a long-standing friendship with her Slocan Valley-savvy daughter, who accorded me the pleasant privilege of visiting with her family in Toronto, where Jane autographed a copy of her then-recent book, The Economy of Cities, for me to give to Paolo; I was captivated to see that Jane's architect-husband Bob had cleverly insinuated a "tight as a ship" soundproofed place for their house telephone in the usually wasted triangulated space under the staircase. I felt warmly welcomed into an impeccable space-conserving retrofit. What was not to like? Jane was also on my mind because I'm intrigued by contemporary opera and there's a new opera about Jane and Robert Moses in the works, that looks like a must-not-miss: <http://mosesjacobsopera.com/>. Plus a "Jane's Walk" celebration will be held in Toronto at the beginning of May <http://janeswalk.org/canada/toronto> and I'd like to attend. I'd also like to see one held at Arcosanti, in part because Jane's pithy assertion about cities is surely relevant to any discussion about developing arcology as a concept.
Jane's idea is also subject to a broad range of interpretations, all of which entail an equally broad range of contradictions. A focused scholarly discussion on YouTube shows (see link below) suggest that the sociology of city planning, as well as the economics of cities historically, demonstrate how it happens that Jane came to make that pragmatic assertion, Me, I doubt that Paolo Soleri would have disagreed with it, in fact or in principle. Despite his lifelong preoccupation with singular city design, what he said about cities is equally pithy:
"The city is an organism of 10,000 minds," said Paolo Soleri. Even if he could not account personally for how the energies of 10,000 minds would coordinate construction of "architectural ecology" as a model for eco-friendly urbanism, he left a wealth of design ideas for others to draw upon. There is no reason for anyone to conclude that he expected to build any of them exactly as his gifted, prolific pen imaged them. To think otherwise is a misconception, an assertion I can make emphatically in light of a conversation I had with him in August, 2003.
Paolo (standing in the area between his SOD apartment and its mother-in-law guest suite, a bridge that served as my office, holding a small sheaf of papers, hard copy of a section of his hand-written journal that had been given to me by Mary Hoadley after she had typed it for me to edit for publication): But this isn't what I wrote.
RC (standing, stolidly facing him, big grin on my face: I can't resist): Paolo! You know how with a building, the finished building isn't identical to your first drawing of it? How you do lots of drawings for it, even before you start to build?
Paolo (catching my eye, assenting, nodding, mumbles agreement ): Um hum.
RC (holding his attention, continuing, inexorable): Writing is like that! What comes out of your pen the first time isn't the final building, it isn't even the final drawing!
Paolo (almost dumbfounded. It has not occurred to him until this moment that all the words flowing from his ever- ready prolific pen, out of his head and onto his paper, are not cast in stone): Oh!
After this encounter, we went to work on his writing. He resisted my attempts to coax him into letting me parse his writing so we could publish it in poetic form, as free verse, which I was given permission to do posthumously on the Quaderni page of this website; but he did learn to cope with having his writing tweaked. At least a little bit.
That conversation took place some 50 years after he'd declared that The City is an Organism of 10,000 Minds. I see no conflict between his uttering that and Jane's averring that A City is Not a Work of Art. For me, those two statements are practically flip sides of the same coin.
Conflating a notion of idealism with the idea of arcology has led some people, even in the fields of architecture and planning, to describe Paolo Soleri as a "visionary." That may have led to the Wikipedia description of arcology as "science fiction," a sort of wild fantasy about the future, a definition that serves to perpetuate the larger myth that our presently habituated patterns of reckless consumerism are justifiable; can be sustained environmentally; that they are economically feasible, that our systemic collective social dependency on the culture of the automobile cannot be addressed, cannot be shifted or redressed; that our dependence has not engendered long-term negative environmental damage or had economic consequences; that it produces no suffering; that it entails no short-term moral or ethical dilemmas.
It is stunningly dangerous to believe that what we have is what must be, that what we have we cannot change; that what we are depending upon cannot fail. To exchange one myth for another does not make mystical belief less consequential. If we choose to remain a civilization rich in blindsight but not in hindsight, we can continue to ignore the truth poignantly encapsulated by the great Chief Sitting Bull, who observed the following about the colonists who invaded his country, stole his land, pillaged its resources, murdered its people, dispossessed its women, raped them and their children: "Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them."
When we first face disease, choice is possible: What shall we choose? How shall we decide what to become?
If there is integrity to arcology as a practical idea, as an artful science, how will we proceed, what measures shall we take, what actions shall we perform to manifest its potential?