December 14, 2017 | Rome, Italy | °C

Lisa Scafuro on Paolo Soleri

By Corinna Amendola
Published: 2013-09-23

Soleri's way of thinking was rooted in his classical European training and the formative years he spent in Mediterranean Italy. His prolific drawings are reminiscent of the great Italian masters. Even his physical method of sculpting earthen mounds at Cosanti was graceful, elegant and seemly European in nature.

Wasn't he detained when he first arrived in the U.S. just after the war?

Yes, in 1946, for 35 days. He was confined to Ellis Island, which had a lasting effect on his psyche.


Soleri and Lisa Scafuro, maker of "The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert."

It also changed his perception of the American Dream, which he later branded a myth. He thought he materialism and hyper-consumerism had produced a lack of fulfillment and wastefulness.

At the same time, he was fascinated by Hollywood movies. They were an integral part to his weekly routine. His Saturday afternoons spent at the movie theater continued well into his 90s.

What was it about Soleri's "futuristic" notions that was most appealing?

He boldly encouraged mankind to envision and re-imagine the world. The magnitude of this effort is a complex balance between nature and technology. On both a philosophical and practical level, he was determined to preserve nature by having as little impact on the surrounding environment.

Was there something about the desert landscape that "got to" Soleri? Here was a young Italian who went from an elegant and staid city, Turin, and eventually settled in what some in his country would call "the middle of nowhere" — how do you account for it, personally?

The encompassing beauty of the Arizona desert entranced him. So did the magnetic presence of Frank Lloyd Wright. His first reflections on Arizona contained a telling sentence: "I'm there to be a sponge!"

Would you consider Soleri an eccentric, and if so how did it show?

Many great artists and thinkers tend to what some might perceive as eccentric. The way he dressed comes to mind, since even as a graduate in Turin it wasn't unusual to see him riding a bike wearing only shorts and sandals — even in winter. He rarely conformed to the mainstream. He eluded the constraints and formality of a tie his entire life.

What made you think a documentary was so important? Was it his work itself or the importance that others knew about it?

Soleri compelled mankind to look to the future. His ideology is more important than what he built. He boldly asked mankind to ... recognize there was only one Planet Earth. Soleri constantly asked questions about man's environment and his future.

What were the biggest challenges in making the film a reality?

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