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Posts Tagged ‘ASU’

  1. Downtown Feast Provides Fitting Tribute for Lost Icon of Arcology

    April 15, 2013 by Connor Descheemaker

    Looking southward from Matthew Salenger's "Desert Islands" installation during Feast on the Street. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Looking southward from Matthew Salenger’s “Desert Islands” installation during Feast on the Street. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    This past Tuesday, Arizona and the world lost one of its greatest and most unique creatives in Paolo Soleri.

    Over his 93 years of life, Soleri was hailed as many things. A visionary, a poet, a philosopher, an architect, a hippie, an idealist, a communist, a control-freak.

    Dwelling for many decades of his life in the Arizona desert, Soleri was given the perfect canvas on which to paint his multi-faceted urban ideal.

    Taken together, his major projects Arcosanti and Cosanti served as the unreachable societal ideal for communing in harmony with both nature and urbanity.

    His drawings and sketches took on an equally monumental scale. The drawings still able to be seen took up entire scrolls dozens of feet long, spanning entire walls when hung end to end.

    But perhaps most notably, none of Soleri’s work ever became mechanical. Each stroke of the pen was done with artistic flourish and vivid color, reflecting both creative unrest and a desire to express the fullness of nature in his work.

    Soleri’s work fell under the banner of organic architecture, and he first came to Arizona after college in Italy to learn from its most famous practitioner: Frank Lloyd Wright.

    After studying at Wright’s famed Taliesin West, rather than become another acolyte, Soleri rebelled.

    He carried out a few commissions, and then began speaking out almost immediately against the very principles upon which his former teacher Wright built his reputation.

    Rather than spreading out and making the car the center of everyday activity, Soleri craved hyper-urbanism, but not in the typical sense. Instead, he founded the philosophy of arcology, the intersection (even linguistically) of architecture and ecology.

    Soleri’s hyper-dense structures would form a new vision of the city in direct contrast to Wright’s famed Broadacre City, which ended up forming the basis of American suburban growth in the late 20th century.

    All based around the apse (a quarter-sphere structure), Soleri’s Mesa City concept would house tens of thousands of residents, but all over an incredibly small footprint. Sweeping, interconnected architectural forms would spring out of the ground and unite residence and business seamlessly.

    Through this unique design, and especially its footprint, all residents would co-exist in an extremely egalitarian form, with everyone having equal access to nature. All parts of the city faced outward, and were each near to the edge of the city and therefore in constant interaction with the surrounding environment.

    The forms which Soleri’s buildings and sketches took are truly unmatched in any era of architecture or design.

    Above all, he desired for man to live in community, both with one another, and with the nature on which they so heavily relied.

    Iconic, and wholly built to fit the Arizona desert in which they were built, Soleri’s Cosanti and Arcosanti stand unparalleled, now tributes to the natural, holistic vision of their creator.

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    This past Saturday represented downtown Phoenix’s most grandiose attempt ever to engage community and environment.

    Roosevelt Row CDC
    , in partnership with ASU Art Museum and School of Sustainability, hosted its first (hopefully) annual Feast on the Street.

    The event centered around a massive, half-mile-long dining table, lined with 2000 chairs taking up First Street in downtown Phoenix, from ASU Downtown’s Taylor Place residence hall to Margaret T. Hance Park. And spaced evenly along the table were information cards and examples of plants native to the area.

    The dining table was flanked on both sides by over a dozen food trucks, a beer garden, a farmers’ market, bucket plants, seed bags, “bike bouquets”, gardening demonstrations, and numerous other local food purveyors and advocates.

    While Phoenix has long been perceived as a place which shuns density of any kind, the dream of those organizing the event and many of its participants is to finally re-adopt the walk, bike, and train, and rebuild the city’s urban core around these principles.

    Historically though, Phoenix was a tight, accessible city with shaded, wide sidewalks, and a popular streetcar line to boot.

    The area directly surrounding the Feast would not appear to many as the epicenter of an urban revival, but those pursing with a fine-tooth comb would find many glimpses of success in the dozens of independent businesses which have cropped up around First Street in the area known as Roosevelt Row.

    Food, in the case of this event, was used as the catalyst for localism and community, and education about the flora and fauna of the Arizona desert to produce harmony between the modern, built world, and the natural one which existed before and will continue to exist if we embrace it.

    And it was these ideals to which Paolo Soleri so desperately clung throughout his near-century of service to the practice of arcology.

    With the Feast’s open embrace of locality and the natural environment the city of Phoenix, it would seem, is finally taking its first tentative, temporary steps toward the embrace of ecology in urban form, dreamt up so long ago by Soleri.

    One could even faintly trace the Feast’s lineage to the numerous potlucks and community dinners held amongst students, apprentices, employees, and visitors to Cosanti and Arcosanti over their many decades of existence.

    A fitting “fine” to the Italian expatriate’s time in the Sonoran Desert.


  2. Sudden Changes in Wright House Fight Cause Public Uncertainty

    November 16, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Victories in Phoenix are rarely certainties, especially in the realm of preservation.

    In a state which takes its private property rights so seriously, and the development dollar trumps all regulation, vigilance is the most vital of characteristics in an historic-building advocate.

    For a brief weekend in late summer, the David and Gladys Wright House was opened to the public, exhibiting the home’s profound character and design sense for all to see. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Just last week, architects, preservationists and designers the world-over were engaging in a collective sigh of relief, with the announcement that a “preservation-minded” buyer had been found for the David and Gladys Wright House. After nearly six months of frantic work among preservation advocates, public hearings, threats of demolition and negotiations in the Mayor’s office, it appeared that the public could breathe once more, knowing that an historic house would be in good hands.

    Then suddenly, on Veterans’ Day, while the home was in escrow, everything changed.

    The anonymous buyer, found by Robert Joffe and 8081 Meridian, had rescinded his offer, citing it an unwise business decision, wishing the property well going forward.

    All the months of work were once again for naught.

    In the wake of the initial buyer announcement, Mayor Greg Stanton and the City Council made the decision to delay voting on the building’s Landmark status, wishing to make contact with the new owner first, and get him or her on-board with the historic designation. Also during this time, the buyer contacted Grady Gammage, Jr., a locally-renowned land-use lawyer and water expert, preservation advocate and son of the namesake for one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable Arizona designs, Gammage Auditorium on ASU’s Tempe campus.

    The score seemed to finally be coming together, and this mysterious figure was playing all the right notes with the Wright fighters. Now, with the Landmark City Council vote delayed till the beginning of December, and the House still in the erratic hands of 8081 Meridian, what the future holds is anyone’s guess, and the overall fight has taken a baby-step backward.

    Even though the final vote was ultimately delayed, last week’s Phoenix City Council meeting still featured the powerful testimonies of Janet Halstead and Larry Woodin, the Executive Director and President of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, respectively, who had each scheduled their visits to Phoenix before the buyer was announced. The two’s thoughtful speeches, alongside letters from the Director of the Guggenheim New York (a building also designed by Wright), Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (architects of the Sears Tower in Chicago), and Barry Bergdoll of Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art, served to seal any uncertainties as to the design significance of the David and Gladys Wright House.

    Following the announcement of the deal’s failure, some sources close to the preservation fight claimed that the Wright Building Conservancy still had multiple buyers interested in pursuing purchase of the property. Though none have publicly owned up to the reported interest, some found solace in the promise of future offers on the property.

    Meanwhile, on the Internet, the community grew restless. The failure of the deal and delay of the Landmark vote worried many as to the long-term viability and power of preservation in Phoenix as a whole.

    Individuals with no personal stake in preservation efforts began proposing solutions of their own, with particular interest being shown in the idea of a cooperative purchase of the property, with potentially thousands donating a few hundred dollars and gift the House to the Wright Building Conservancy, or another like-minded group to preserve the space for the public.

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    But despite that idea’s immediate interest, those with the greatest stake in preservation took great pains to express the associated difficulties with such a purchase, urging interested parties to continue their advocacy efforts. That way, the home’s physical future could in the hands of professionals already making waves, who have long been in talks with both the City of Phoenix and the property owners at 8081 Meridian.

    With tensions and anxiety reaching a fever pitch among those clamoring to save the David and Gladys Wright House, focus must be kept now more than ever. As the search for a new buyer continues, the City of Phoenix and the thousands of avowed supporters of preservation must push forward in taking all due measures to protect the house.

    First and foremost, that means designating the house a Landmark in Phoenix, guaranteeing it protection from demolition for three years, providing vital time to find an agreeable buyer. But more than that, it means focus and calm.

    If Phoenix wishes to get serious about preserving its past, there is no better litmus test than the preservation of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most acclaimed and sentimental designs in the David and Gladys Wright House.

    An educated, united front is all that can protect history, physical or otherwise.