Arcosanti. Paolo Soleri’s School of Thought. May 5, 2011.

The structure of a School of Thought (SOFT) conversation is for two workshop attendees to select a page from Paolo Soleri’s writings.  The page is copied and passed out to those in the room and read aloud, prompting questions.

At the session I attended, one text dealt with ecology and was first published in 1970.  Here are excerpts from that text:

“The conflict between man’s intelligence and his immature use of it does not imply an inherent evil.  If the past saw an ecology imposed by nature on man, the future may witness an ecology evolved by man within a tamed nature.”


“The two elements of compassion, the loneliness peculiar to man and the indifference cruelly and beautifully practiced by the cosmos, will always determine the quality of human life . . . Up to us is the transfiguration of the struggle between compassion and indifference into a more inclusive divinity: the ecology of a compassionate universe.”

And from a 2005 text:

“One thing we should label correctly is time pollution, i.e. the daily waste of time due to moving things and people from here to there.  The time wasted commuting for instance, is one of the main time pollutions of affluence and hyper-consumption.   Motion implies energy spent, thus commuting is a double slam of time pollution and energy waste.”


“A culture based on the automobile leads to the diaspora of habitat, inevitably segregating people and stifling true novelty, the synergies of culture and civilization.”


“An aerial view of exurban diaspora evidences that grotesque, monotonous, shallow, delusional life . . . but serves well the production, consumption, segregation waste, and pollution cycle of raw capitalism.”


“Even the sun, source and resource of life, is nothing more than a super hot gaseous mass, the most apt god to idolize if we are so inclined.”

These texts prompted a discussion that included the following statements:

When Soleri speaks, his hands are as conductor’s batons.  Fingers made slender by years and taut skin.  His gestures add nuance to his voice.  The fingers of one hand curl into a circle, then, the other hand follows in a slow ballet.

“History is less relevant than evolution.”

“The future is never very distant.”

“What has happened cannot be unhappened.”

“Goodness only comes from Theology?  Pure nonsense.  Pure nonsense.”

“History is full of noble documents indicating ways to behave better.”

“The physical environment is a cage, a skeleton.”

“A hundred years ago, no one could imagine a city without horses.”

“We must marginalize the car.”

Soleri closed the ninety-minute session by calling for two workshoppers to volunteer to select the SOFT texts for next week. 

And we adjourned.  Conversations in pairs and threes continued in the room. 

Soleri passed close to me, and I asked if I could take his picture.  He demurred with a cherubic look.

“I find I remember so much more of people’s words when I can see their face,”  I said. 

The cherub brightened and put his arm around a tall, healthy blonde, and as they both struck a pose, I got one click.  

7 Responses to Arcosanti. Paolo Soleri’s School of Thought. May 5, 2011.

  1. karen wittgraf says:

    I love his words. I love his wisdom. He’s like the desert version of the Dali Lama.
    So innovative! We in the U.S. depend on vehicles for everything…can’t we become more European, clustering towns with all that is needed for survival and quality of life. I like the compassion/indifference theory. Wow- interesting, Al! Tell me, are you cutting vegetables for this knowledge?

  2. michael says:

    Years ago in a long conversation with Tom Hanna about physical reality and worship, we concluded there should be altar to Gravity.

  3. Dave L says:

    Some obvious, some arguable, most enlightening.

  4. David Bauer says:

    I personally agree with much of what Soleri argues, but contemporary trends in world culture suggest that his vision may be lost in our human quest for technology and acquisition. Erich Fromm’s advised that people need to place more energy on their “being and becoming” than they do on their “having.” According to Giovanni Maria Pace ( ):

    Fromm maintains in his book titled To Have Or to Be? that capitalist society is reaching its end. The nuclear arms race, ecological ruin, terrorism, the economic collapse all spring, according to Fromm, from the cult of having and from the disregard of being. For Fromm there is no substantial difference between the capitalist industrialism of the Western world and the bureaucratic industrialism of the socialist world: both are built on the principle of possession, both believe that they make the citizen happy, making him an ever more insatiable consumer.

    Fromm’s conceptualization may be summarized as follows:

    Having Mode

    Being Mode

  5. Christine Thomas says:

    Looks like Mr. Acrosanti has not had the ‘privilege’ of having to live and survive in the REAL world…his thoughts are too lofty for most Americans to digest…and not based on reality as we have been forced to endure…he has invented a world not reconciled to what most humans have had to live with: paying bills, raising proper chldren to be economically independent with good moral values….competition for jobs, the unexpected cruelty of the WORLD at large….that’s why we have to escape all of this through the arts, culture, sailing, skiing, friends, etc…

  6. Colleen Rae says:

    Soleri is a weathered sage – a visionary of our times. More of us should heed his words.

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