Paolo Soleri—the intrepid architect, urban planner, and visionary—has added another honor to his long list of accolades: a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The 87-year-old Soleri was recognized for his lifelong experiment in sustainable urban planning at Arcosanti ( www.arcosanti.org), the prototype planned community under construction since 1970. “Soleri, in his own visionary way, took into account a lot of the considerations that architects are now finding make a lot of sense,” says Roger Mandle, president of the Rhode Island School of Design and chair of the Cooper-Hewitt's 2006 National Design Awards jury. “The jury felt it was time to recognize Soleri for the very practical suggestions his work has made as we take greater account of the impact of urban design on ecology.”
For 40 years, Soleri has been tackling problems that architects and planners have only recently begun to take seriously. He coined the term arcology—architecture fused with ecology—to define a design approach that allows cities to function as a complex living system to reduce waste and improve quality of life. Born and educated in Italy, Soleri came to the United States in 1947 and spent a year and a half working with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. He returned to Italy in 1950, but six years later he settled in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he established Cosanti, a not-for-profit educational organization that funds research and construction on Arcosanti.
Soleri notes that Arcosanti is “a very modest endeavor” in its development pace. As a result of the award, he hopes the project will begin to attract more financing. “I don't have any doubt about the validity of what I'm proposing, and I'm hoping that Arcosanti might solicit some interest that goes beyond curiosity,” he says. “We'd like to see the project, on 860 acres, be purchased by a corporation or philanthropist and given to a university. The money we'd get from the purchase would be put back into the project.” Soleri will be honored at a gala on October 18, with First Lady Laura Bush serving as the honorary patron for this year's National Design Awards.