Spanning more than 17 1/2 feet, this expansive drawing depicts residences Soleri  designed for his first experiment in urban design: Mesa City

Desert Dweller

Written by Nick Esquer Category: Arts Issue: November 2017
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Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) grew up with the Alps as his backyard near the Renaissance-rich town of Turin. When he made his way to the sprawling, arid desert of Arizona in 1946, the contrast couldn’t be more apparent. What unfolded for Soleri was an equilibrium of art and ecology most evident in his handcrafted pieces and Space Age-like communities including Acrosanti, an experiment bringing his philosophy of arcology (architecture and ecology) to the forefront of the then-burgeoning Phoenix population.

Through the end of January, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art takes a look back at the architect and land lover’s work with Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City Is Nature, which features some never-before-seen works of art.

“He is certainly one of the two most important architects Arizona has produced,” says Claire Carter, the exhibition’s curator, bunching together Soleri with his American mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. “The exhibition is about identifying him as an artist and architect, and expand[ing] the way we think about him besides buildings that we’re familiar with.”

 

Dome House, Cave Creek, Arizona 1949-50Dome House, Cave Creek, Arizona 1949-50
This petite plaster model represents the only existing three-dimensional rendering of Soleri’s first constructed residence, Dome House. “Dome House still stands today and is one of Arizona’s architectural gems,” Carter says.

Untitled Bell, January/February 1968Untitled Bell, January/February 1968
In the 1950s, Soleri began experimenting with ceramics and quickly established a ceramics, and later bronze-casting, practice at Cosanti. “Often Soleri would carve his designs directly into the soil and cast the bell forms there,” Carter says. “These hand-carved designs evolved as Soleri experimented with different casting materials.”

Mesa City, Arts + Crafts Villages C – D, 1961 (pictured top)
Spanning more than 17 1/2 feet, this expansive drawing depicts residences Soleri designed for his first experiment in urban design: Mesa City.

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Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale
480-874-4666, smoca.org