The Vision of Paolo Soleri

More than 10 years in the making, Lisa Scafuro’s documentary “The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” can be classified as nothing less than a labor of love. And Scafuro, who served as the project’s producer, writer, director, and editor, is at last reaping the benefits of her labor as the film continues to be screened across the country.

The story captures the life and work of the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri (1919–2013). Born in Turin, Soleri move to the United States and was an apprentice under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. Soleri established himself as an iconic figure of counterculture living through his Arcosanti settlement in the high desert of Arizona and his philosophy of “arcology” — the symbiosis of architecture and ecology.

“I first met Paolo in the summer of 1996,” said Scafuro. “I was immediately intrigued by his work and quickly wanted to know more.” She discovered a wealth of information and documentation about Soleri’s life form the 1940s to the 1980s. “I realized that Paolo’s work had long been voiced to the public by his wife, Carolyn “Colly” Soleri, but when she passed in 1982, the information-sharing ceased.”

So Scafuro set out to revive the documentation of the man behind the vision. But with Soleri’s busy schedule, filming did not take place until 2002 and took over a decade to complete. After years of dedication, Scafuro’s dream was realized when she was able to screen a rough cut of the film to Soleri on his 93rd birthday. “Paolo was such a humble man, but you could tell that he was pleased with how the documentary turned out,” said Scafuro.

Architect, urban planner, and environmentalist Soleri's principles touched and made an impace on the lives of many. Scafuro captures his story through a series of interviews with “wish list” individuals — ranging from architect Steven Holl to 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer — whose stories weave the tale of Soleri’s life and career.

 “The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” allows the legacy of Soleri to live on. Scafuro says it best: “Paolo was so much more than an architect. He remains a relevant contemporary of the built environment that we should all take a chance to learn from.”

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.

This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.