It has been approximately one year since the Board of Directors of The Cosanti Foundation released an official statement in support of the disclosures by Daniela Soleri concerning behaviors of her father, Paolo Soleri. The statement of the Foundation Board supported her telling her story and has been posted on our website since last year, was sent by email December 14, 2017 to the 13,000 people who comprise our online constituency, was subsequently quoted in several online articles, including online magazines Curbed and Dezeen, and has been shared with concerned individuals and entities as issues and questions arose. The statement said, in part, “We are saddened by Daniela Soleri’s trauma. Her decision to speak out about her father’s behavior towards her helps us confront Paolo Soleri’s flaws, and compels us to reconsider his legacy…. We support and stand firmly with Daniela.” For the full statement, see here.
It is appropriate to revisit these issues in light of the December 9, 2018 article in The Scottsdale Daily Progress, “Should Scottsdale Reconsider Soleri Tributes?” by Wayne Schutsky and Kristine Cannon. Specifically, in light of allegations about the conduct of architect and urban designer Paolo Soleri, should tributes to his work and ideas be reconsidered? For the reasons below, we at The Cosanti Foundation answer, “Yes, do reconsider, in this way: distinguish the work from the man, celebrate his ideas by using them to make a better world, and acknowledge (again) that to support great ideas is not to condone the conduct of their creator.”
“Reconsider”: how best to reform and improve the environment in which toxic behavior may arise
We agree with the statements ascribed in the article to Daniela Soleri, that “abuse perpetuated by powerful, talented men” should not be “excused or ignored,” and that we should “sort […] out our feelings about the works produced by alleged perpetrators vs. the men themselves” in “open and honest discussions about abuse, rather than…blind deference to powerful men and influential artists.” In the “#MeToo” era, reconsideration and reanalysis of the behavior of past geniuses, from Thomas Jefferson to Albert Einstein to Pablo Picasso, can truly be a path to higher consciousness and a better world. The #MeToo movement is benefiting society by provoking discussions long overdue about the suffering in our workplaces and our homes caused by predatory behavior about which we choose no longer to be complicit. We are challenged to reconsider: how can we be better?
Consistent with the Foundation’s vision to seek equitable and sustainable relationships between human activities and the Earth’s ecology, and its goals of inspiring cultural transformation, the Foundation’s anti-harassment policy prohibits unlawful harassment of any kind in the workplace, including sexual harassment. Further, this policy encourages workers to report any perceived harassment, and prohibits retaliation in response to reports. At Arcosanti and its sister location in Paradise Valley, Cosanti, resident employees and volunteers have attended anti-harassment training to promote a culture of respect and integrity. We have made great strides to ensure that the working climate for our employees, and at Arcosanti, for our residents, is safe and healthy. We do not tolerate abusive behavior and we have dismissed individuals who violate that policy. This is our commitment today and for the future. The Foundation separates the man Paolo Soleri from his ideas, regrets the failings of the man, and honors the ideas with its dedication to work for better urban environmental design for humankind and the planet.
In “reconsidering” the legacy of Soleri, some may infer from the article that it would be appropriate to dissociate from all aspects of Soleri, remove every reference to him from every bridge, street, bell and public monument, and perhaps even withdraw support and patronage of all kinds from the organization promoting his ideas. Respectfully, we disagree.
As organizations of all kinds reform the culture of their workplaces, no doubt there may be skeletons of past transgression in closets. Imagine that a former leader of your favorite coffee, beverage or food chain or the designer of your favorite clothes, no longer alive, was discovered to have been a predator or abuser long ago, and imagine further that those organizations have changed, no longer tolerate such behavior, and now have workplaces where people feel safe. Would you stop buying your favorite coffee, food or clothes, thereby harming thousands of people who are involved in bringing you that coffee or making that clothing, because of the egregious behavior of one figure in the organization’s history?
The Cosanti Foundation is like that coffee or clothing provider, in that it has taken positive actions to keep its workplaces free from harassment and retaliation. We are also trying to redress this past by creating a new bell in our line of “cause bells” that raises funds for organizations dedicated to addressing sexual abuse and advocating for change. Globally, the Foundation has over 8,000 alumni and supporters, as well as over 70 current Arizona employees, some of whom are supporting families. They all continue to advance the principles and ideas of environmental sustainability and urban design that leads to a more fulfilling social environment. Sales of the iconic bronze and ceramic bells allow us to advance these principles at a time when our mission is greatly needed. “Reconsidering” should, we believe, lead to an increase in focus and support for the ideas and principles of the Foundation, not a boycott. Just as the phrase, “all men are created equal,” was drafted by a slave-owner, the flaws in the man do not diminish the power of his ideas, which still inspires the fight for the principle of equal justice.
“Reconsider”: The Ideas of Arcology.
We at The Cosanti Foundation are dedicated to ideas about urban design, architecture and ecology that have urgent and lasting value to mankind. These ideas include architecture that fosters community, discourages sprawl, and nurtures the best of human nature through well-designed density. Design that promotes community through richer human interaction and integrates the natural world by locating the built environment on a border of a protected environment that inspires in its visibility and accessibility. The combination of these elements of architectural design and ecology has become known as “arcology.” Arcology was considered radical fifty years ago and has proven itself relevant today, with goals that are not limited to environmental resource protection, but also the promotion of social congruence in cities designed to better provide the advantages of shared humanity and combat the isolation created by sprawl. The Cosanti Foundation continues to develop its programs for education and research in implementing the principles of arcology and related designs for human habitat and urban planning. We encourage readers to learn more about these ideas at https://arcosanti.org/arcology/.
We recognize, and judge, both this admirable legacy of ideas, and the serious misdeeds of the man who conceived them. As stated by the Board of the Foundation shortly after the public disclosures of Daniela Soleri that “We honor the work, not the man.”
When readers visit the Soleri bridge or hear the dulcet sounds of a Soleri bell, we hope they are inspired by the ideas of arcology. If they also remember the flaws of the man, and remember that “abuse perpetrated by powerful, talented men” should not be “excused or ignored” (as the Progress article described Daniela Soleri’s essay), so much the better. We remember that Jefferson owned slaves, even as he wrote that “all men are created equal,” but we don’t try to erase Jefferson altogether, because the ideas he championed are so important. Soleri, too, conveyed powerful and important ideas that need to be shared now more than ever.
We sincerely believe the positive social, environmental and sustainable principles to which Soleri dedicated his life deserve attention, and even “tribute.” The personal misconduct of Soleri should not diminish the power of his ideas to inspire us to save our planet and life in safer, healthier communities. Reconsider Soleri? Yes, indeed, but this should be the conclusion: as long as we remain firm in the determination that great thinkers get no free pass on behaviors we all recognize to be wrong, we are free to take inspiration from their great ideas, and use them to make a better world.
President, The Cosanti Foundation
View our Anti-Harrasment Policy