Paolo Soleri, an Italian-born architect who created a visionary prototype for a new kind of ecologically sensitive city in the remote Arizona desert four decades ago, only to watch the suburban sprawl he detested begin to creep near it in recent years, has died. He was 93.
Mr. Soleri died of natural causes April 9 at his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., according to an official with the architect's foundation.
A one-time apprentice at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West compound on the edge of Scottsdale, Ariz., Mr. Soleri founded his own desert settlement, called Arcosanti, in 1970 at a site roughly 70 miles north of downtown Phoenix.
Perched on a bluff overlooking the Agua Fria River, it drew inspiration from the utopian villages of religious exiles and the fledgling environmental movement of the 1960s. Like Wright, Mr. Soleri was energized by the extremes of the desert landscape and relied on young, earnest followers to carry out a good deal of the construction work.
But he also broke philosophically with Wright, whose influential Broadacre City plan of the 1930s imagined a string of lush suburban communities connected by car traffic.
In a series of feverishly detailed drawings, Mr. Soleri instead proposed denser, vertical settlements that would leave more land untouched at ground level. He called this approach "arcology," a term combining architecture and ecology.
Planned as a community of more than 5,000, Arcosanti was never home to more than 100 or so people. Most of the residents were apprentices to Mr. Soleri who, like Wright's followers at Taliesin West, paid for the privilege of studying his work at close range.
As Mr. Soleri aged, progress on the desert compound went from deliberate to grindingly slow. Even some of his followers said his approach was autocratic, or called the philosophy underpinning the architecture opaque.
One journalist visiting Arcosanti in 1999 described it as "a beautiful ruin." A suburban subdivision, Cordes Lakes, was built just two miles to the south.
But it would be too simple to say that Mr. Soleri lost and the McMansions won, or that the architect's impassioned ideas about the relationship between architecture and the natural world have grown irrelevant. Increasingly, the leaders of the green architecture movement see the kind of density and vertical architecture he championed as crucial to energy-efficient living.
Paolo Soleri was born on June 21, 1919, in Turin, Italy. After earning a doctorate in architecture from the Polytechnic University of Turin, he moved to Arizona in 1947 to study at Taliesin West. He also traveled to Wright's original Taliesin compound in Spring Green, Wis., spending 18 months altogether as an apprentice. He left Wright in 1949 to pursue his own work.
Mr. Soleri's first solo project was the Dome House in Cave Creek, Ariz. Sunk partially into the desert, the house is topped with a retractable glass dome and suggests a cross between Wright's work and the futuristic Los Angeles architecture of John Lautner, another Wright disciple.