Around him is his Cosanti house. White curtains drawn. A light blue chair. Neat and tidy work tables. Small spaces. Packets of cereals and jars lined up on the fridge. As in another great painting by Tom Wesselmann, but with fewer colours here and the opposite effect, with images of a sober everyday life far from the icons of voracious consumerism, from the lure of useless opulence (why do the outlet cathedrals of our cities spring to mind?). Looking around, you won't find anything useless here, a sensation that pervades this pioneer architect's spaces and lifestyle. Instead, you'll find a whole lot of useless things that make life worth living. A respect for nature. Solidarity between men and animals. Fragility even. What's the use of poetry, music and a love of architecture if it doesn't offer a long clean gaze? It is all written in this stretch of land between Phoenix and Flagstaff (in the Italian comic stories of cowboy Tex Willer there is always the hooting of a train rumbling through Flagstaff).
The blanket on the bed is folded back in a habitual act of tidiness performed by someone who looks after himself. A dark wooden chair acts as a bedside table with a photograph propped up against the backrest, portraying the carved face of a Roman man, age-old like the dressing table: stuff from Grandma's house. There's just a few indispensable items dotted about, like a folded lamp. Is this poverty? Dedication, you might say, or faithfulness to a task that excludes anything else. A defence even, against the vulgarity of excess, as in a monastery. Reflected in the mirror are the usual drawn white curtains.
Among olive trees and cactuses the house bears the signs of continuous stratification. Wooden boards nailed and mended. Bricks and glass. This is rural America. A land of pickups and check flannel shirts. You can sleep under the open sky, on the edge of pasture lands, and be impregnated with odours from the desert nearby.
Washing at the stone trough. Heady stuff. As a young man Soleri abandoned Taliesin West after quarrelling with his master Wright. No doubt it took guts to come and live in the desert, sleeping in the open, designing with nature. The American dream. Which can come true here. What else could Arcosanti be? The architect's room at Arcosanti has a bed covered by a chessboard fabric, and circular windows opening onto the landscape, inviting a gaze into the elsewhere. Spruce work tables and a coffee pot on the kitchen stove. Chairs, big cabinet drawers full of portfolios, and four dishes lined up on the spotless kitchen sink. Prickly plants and succulents in an earthenware bowl hanging like a reversed cupola, and the streaked water of jade reflections in a large pool. With a sky furrowed by white clouds drawn up in formation like flocks of wild duck in a Richard Ford story.
It's still America, but Paolo Soleri was born in Italy. So off I go to see his only Italian work, the Solimene ceramics factory in Vietri. To feel and capture the spirit and search for contact.
It is a carefree sunny autumn day. The factory is there after a bend from which the sea appears like a steel slick of blinding reflections. A magma of reversed cones covering crags ripped open by other men.
A completion, or rather, a transformation. Something that materialises. Like magma, it has chinks and cracks, filled here by glazing and iron framework. To get in you have to go up a lane pointing towards the sun. The endless ceramic discs switch on like myriads of mirrors. Inside, the pillars spread like trees ready to welcome something. A nest or whatever. Here is a great spiral of routes and the granular smooth colour of sand. If you concentrate, you can smell it in your nostrils.
The light streams down and crashes into a thousand squares like falling confetti. Visible here and there are iron frames, damp stains.
But there is nothing careless about the people working there, who seem to love the place. On the floor are piles of plates, jugs, vases, tiles and medallions in a thousand bright colours. Blue. Green. Yellow. The colours of the sea. Of prairies and desert. Everything here. Within reach. And touchable. Davide Vargas