So, apparently, Soleri's method is to incorporate elements of art, architecture and theology in his work. He's a suburb hater, a lover of density in living conditions. In a Soleri arcology (a melding of the words architecture and ecology), several generations of a family will live together. And people will live where they work; the concept of commuting will die. "Architecture students don't understand it," says Jeff Cook, a longtime architecture professor at ASU. He and Soleri are old friends. "Many people who have supported him or tried to learn from him are not architects . . . but they find enough sense in what he's saying and doing to want to find out more." Soleri's reputation is greatest beyond America's borders. His concepts are better understood and appreciated in Europe and Japan, theorizes Davis, because in those places the people are perhaps more attuned to the notions of miniaturization and compressed living conditions. Some say that Soleri's following in Japan is cultlike. (In fact, one of Soleri's chief assistants-collaborators is Tomiaki Tamura, who came to Arizona from Tokyo roughly 15 years ago to study with the master. Tamura, in his late thirties, is considered Soleri's intellectual heir.) The Japanese and the Europeans think more about, and better of, the future.
"Americans . . . would like the future to be just like the past," explains architecture professor Cook. "They don't have any concept of a future which is better than their childhood or their parents' life. They just want to reproduce their parents' life, maybe with a newer car or better air conditioning. "But there isn't a lot of optimism. Japan is optimistic about the future. I have friends in Hungary, and they're not about to look to the past. "To live in a Cape Cod house with roses and a picket fence--that's the imagery of the great life in the United States. It's an image that is totally historical. "In Europe, they're fed up with history. History has not been nice to them." LAWRENCE CHEEK, a regular contributor to New Times, concluded an analysis of the Arcosanti project for Arizona Highways by writing, "The vote here on this enormously controversial undertaking is that it will make one heck of a ruin."
"We study ruins," says ASU's Jeff Cook. "We don't study Arcosanti."
People close to him say Soleri has been thinking about posterity for many years. The architect apparently believes his architecture will not be his greatest legacy, but that the ideas--the emphasis on the integration of disciplines--will long outlive the clamshell roofs. Temporal criticism likely means little to a man working for the ages. Still, says an aide, speaking of Arcosanti's slow progress and daunting long-term schedule, "He worries that his life is shorter than it needed it to be."
This summer, Soleri's younger brother Luciano, who had run the bell foundry at Arcosanti, died after an abrupt illness. The death came during the week that the compound commemorates the birthday of Paolo's wife Colly, who died in the early 1980s and who is buried within sight of the architect's Arcosanti studio. Despite some understandable sorrow over such events, Soleri can regularly be seen working side by side with students on construction projects. His latest work, on display at Arcosanti, is a colored-pencil drawing of interconnected arcologies. The space-age cities are linked by a magnetic-levitation railway. According to aides, Soleri is currently fascinated with (and holding great hope for) the futuristic rail technology. Even the simple asphalt road has promise of a lasting interdisciplinary statement. The foundation has received a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. American artists will be invited to come paint the road once it's poured. The theme, according to Arcosanti press information, will be endangered species. The Via Deliziosa is planned as one of the largest such works on Earth. Nobody can say when it will be done. THE WORK OF JOURNALISTS, Soleri says, is "shallow." Reporters are, on the whole, "malicious and ignorant." He doesn't like having his photograph taken. Still, Soleri sits for the occasional interview to help publicize his cause. A project dependent on public largess (the suggested donation for a tour of Arcosanti is $4; the price of bells ranges from a few dollars into the tens of thousands) needs regular press--good, bad or otherwise. A few members of Soleri's organization recognize that need.
A few years ago, Soleri sat reluctantly for just such an interview with a reporter from the New York Times. "If I had known what was ahead," he told the correspondent, "I never would have started this."