Paolo Soleri Turns 90, Builds First Bridge

It is a testament to his dedication and personal grandeur that Paolo Soleri isn't running around today telling the world, "I told you so."

It was, after all, nearly 40 years ago that the Italian architect began construction on Arcosanti, his alternative, experimental community near Cordes Junction in the middle of the desert north of Phoenix, introducing to a skeptical world the idea of sustainable living. And it's been more than 50 years since he founded the Costanti Foundation and began designing the city of the future. Its goal? To conserve energy, resources and land.

Sound familiar? All too, in today's world of green-this and sustainable-that.

Soleri celebrated his 90th birthday and the summer solstice on the Marshall Way Bridge in Scottsdale Sunday morning, forgiving our lateness and even offering us a gift.

The legendary Arizona architect and bell-maker (you can check out his work by driving north on I-17 about an hour to Arcosanti, or head to Paradise Valley to see the bell foundry) unveiled designs for the Soleri Bridge and Plaza, which will cross the canal at Scottsdale Road just West of Camelback, encourage alternate modes of travel (like gasp! walking), and mark in shadows the course of the sun.

"It is solar-related, as most of [Soleri's] philosophy and many of his projects are," said Scottsdale Public Arts Project Manager Donna Isaac, adding that it will make people aware of the angle of the sun - something most try to avoid, this time of year.

The bridge will look something like a giant game of Cat's Cradle, with two 64-foot pylons looming dramatically over the horizon and a suspension bridge balanced below. There will be bells (of course), seating, shade and silt-cast walls that are being constructed at Cosanti.

The question of just when the project will be a completed is a delicate one. Soleri has something of a history of unfinished business. Arcosanti has been under construction since 1970, and though Soleri has been designing bridges since 1948, Scottsdale will have the only one of his bridges to actually get built, Isaac said.

The project, currently under review by the Salt River Project (which runs the canal system) and the city of Scottsdale (which will fund $1.7 million of the project), won't be finalized until the fall. There's no word yet as to the date of a ground breaking.

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Lauren Gilger
Contact: Lauren Gilger