I had the opportunity to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio, and Cosanti, the studio of Paolo Soleri, while I was in Arizona at the Sustainable Design Leaders Summit. Soleri was an apprentice of Wright’s at Taliesin. While Wright and Soleri had contrasting ideas of what architecture should be, and the two sites I visited were aesthetically very different, the architects did have two major similarities in the way they designed. First, both used a process of experimentation. They tested one construction method and then improved upon it in subsequent constructions across their sites. Secondly, both designed sustainably. They designed vernacular architecture, which relates to utilizing materials found in the surrounding environment, and passive systems to adjust to the climate and provide thermal comfort.
What was most interesting to me were the “buildings” that Soleri created. They push the boundaries of what we consider a building to be today: we think four walls, a floor, and a roof. Soleri designed to live within the given climate and only created enclosure when needed, as seen in the arched coverings that protect from the harsh sun while funneling cool breezes through the work spaces.
In some ways, we’ve become so used to on-demand temperature control that we’ve forgotten how to live with the climate. Imagine if we dressed to match the seasonal climate with wool suits in the winter and shorts and T-shirts in the summer. With the exception of the past 100 years, that is how humans lived— we co-existed in balance with the planet. If we could reevaluate how we live within our environment, then we’d have a better chance of being able to maintain an environment worth living in.