Soleri / Daniela

I used to half-jokingly refer to Paolo Soleri as "Saint Soleri." I have even spent Christmas at Arcosanti a couple times. His work is some of my favorite; whether it's the sculptures I live with, his architecture I visit over and over again, or the bells which have become my personal litmus test of whether someone is truly "in the know" of good design and architecture. It turns out he was far from a saint. 

Image: The Guardian

Daniela Soleri, Paolo's daughter shared her story of abuse on Medium:

I used to dream the same thing over and over. I am a child at home, and there in our living room is my father, Paolo Soleri, in a large cage, fuming. We, my mother and sister and I, quietly hand paper, pencils, crayons and charcoal to him through the bars, or we hand in clay, or Styrofoam and a woodburning tool, or large flat trays of moist, densely packed silt with knives to carve it, powders and washes to color it. He draws, forms, carves, shoving the beautiful results back out angrily, yelling his fury. It was a clumsily literal dream that started in my early adolescence, when my father, an architect and craftsman, began sexually molesting me, eventually attempting rape when I was 17. It was a child’s solution to the problem posed by a man who I, and everyone around me, saw as the center of the universe.

I have tested myself over the last years, looking hard at Soleri’s artistic and architectural work. Most does not seem to me to be compromised by his worst behaviors. I still like much, though not all, of what I see, it still rings true. But it is clearer now. Viewing it free from the rationalizations and workarounds, I can also see flaws, expressions of ignorance, arrogance, narcissism. Teasing out a response to a work and its maker is complicated, and personal. Time or distance can depersonalize or disconnect behaviors from works, but not always or for everyone. For me now, unless a work is an extension or expression of an individual’s antisocial behaviors, or enriches and affirms those, I need to assess that work separately from its maker.

So, yes, there are still aspects of Soleri’s work I agree with and admire. There are ideas I believe he was very right about. And he was no charlatan, not a financial wheeler and dealer, he had no hidden agendas. He started by attracting a group of people willing to work hard, a group held together by valuing ideas more than material rewards. Yet ultimately, for better and for worse, it became a group held together by their commitment to him, or more accurately, what proximity to him did for them.

Every human endeavor is marked by at least some people whose contributions are significant and enduring, but whose behaviors were, or are, anywhere from unpleasant to horrific. Clearly we don’t need to endorse the antisocial behaviors of Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, or others to enjoy and benefit from their work. But failing to make this distinction contributes to the long history of hiding, and so tacitly accepting the harmful transgressions of creative public figures, especially during their lifetimes. I see now that I, and others in Soleri’s inner circle, failed to acknowledge this distinction and act on it. We allowed respect and admiration to morph into acceptance — albeit sometimes reluctant — of his behaviors, forming a coterie of deference and delusion. And for me personally, delaying the process of loosening the grip of this history.
Curbed reached out to Cosanti Foundation Board president, Jeff Stein, AIA, who provided the board’s official statement:
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. With Paolo Soleri's creative intelligence, he understood the need for discipline and limits to the urban form. However, his narcissism prevented him from understanding the need for discipline and limits on abusive behavior. We support and stand firmly with Daniela.
We know that Arcosanti and Cosanti are much greater than the ideas of one man. Over the past fifty years, more than 8,000 participants from all over the world have contributed to Arcosanti and Cosanti through our workshops and programs. Our work in urban planning will continue. It was considered radical fifty years ago and has proven itself relevant today. Our goal is a built environment inspired by Soleri's architecture that fosters community, integrates the natural world, and nurtures the best of human nature.

Daniela actually made the board aware of the abuse by her father years ago:

I finally told some of Soleri’s inner circle about my experiences about 24 years ago, others learned of them six years ago when I tendered my letter of resignation from the board of Soleri’s Cosanti Foundation, with an explanation of why. In response to receiving my letter, one of my father’s long time colleagues and board member wrote “I am disappointed in everyone.” A strange reaction from a man I had known since I was seven. Two years later he presided at a memorial seminar eulogizing Soleri and his work. His message seemed to be that, yes, he’s disappointed that those things occurred, but he’s equally disappointed that they are being brought up, instead of silenced.

Please read Daniela Soleri's full story at Medium