Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Changing the Form

Much discussion these days on how to accommodate people and their cars and "stuff" without obliterating the planet. What is readily apparent is that things can't continue in "business as usual" mode, the limits of our resources have already been exceeded. All of our social and planning models are predicated on continuing expansion and growth instead of better efficiencies and more creative use of resources. So we need to change the form of the city. An idea that's been around for decades out in the Arizona mesa is Arcosanti, the beginnings of an Arcology that is predicated on human settlements developed with passive energy and the use of form to modulate an environment for living within urban densities yet integrating the natural processes. The idea of "miniaturization" is integral to its concept.

In 1978 I participated in a summer workshop at Arcosanti, the East Crescent construction, in conjunction with earlier college class studies and for college credit at SLO. Got my hands dirty and my head "stretched"! Paolo Soleri was a former intern with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen West, but didn't last long there (clash of the Titans) and established his own shop at Cosanti Foundation in Scottsdale before starting up the big project out on the desert mesa. He's Italian, and by virtue of his early exposure to Catholicism and the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, he developed a unique, if convoluted, approach to the way humans should live on the earth. The ideas follow the "Omega Point" phenomenology of this Jesuit priest, which essentially argues that mankind is co-creating its own spiritual development to an ultimate point of existence that many religions define as "God". This leads into some heavy conceptualizations about creating that spiritual space, the "noosphere", that facilitates this transformation with close proximity and high interaction. Soleri's argument is that it's necessary for humans to live in a densely interconnected way in order to move towards this "Omega Point". This was before the internet and Twitter.
So this approach is grounded in a spritual-network approach as well as an environmental one, that ends up with a radically different way of changing the form of human habitation. Its form is probably too dense and collaborative for our culture, but it lends itself as a good model for dense urban areas that require a regenerative approach to make these areas viable environmentally and socially. It is a precursor to "multi-use" zoning and transit oriented developments that are evolving models in urban planning today, affecting the legal, accounting and finance sectors of our business practices as our cities shift towards this model. As developments become more complex and dense, the project delivery system is also shifting towards an integration of building practices, known as partnering.

Soleri discusses his philosophies developed over the decades on the Arcosanti website, and also provides examples of the development of many Arcologies and other environmental projects, some of which have come to fruition. Fertile ground for some necessary thinking about our urban spaces and how we live.