It’s hard to imagine that in the middle of the desert, you could feel anything but ridiculously, uncomfortably and unbearably hot.
The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is no exception. Temperatures regularly sit above 40 degrees Celsius in the peak summer months. The heat sits like a heavy weight on your chest, making it difficult to breathe as your movements become nothing but sluggish and slow.
As I sit with Jeff Stein in his desert apartment, I expect to be plagued by that unbearable heat. He doesn’t have air conditioning and not a single window or door is cracked. But as I stare through the large, circular window behind him onto the endless views of the vast, dry landscape, it’s somehow calm and cool in here.
“I would sometimes introduce Paolo to audiences, and I would always point out that he’s not a genius. He just works really, really hard,” Stein tells me as he adjusts the round, silver glasses that are sliding down his nose.
He is reflecting on architect Paolo Soleri, who designed the apartment and desert town that Stein now calls home. In an effort to combat environmental destruction, Soleri established Arcosanti — a self-sustaining urban development that is built, heated, cooled and powered primarily from its natural surroundings. It’s an incomplete, though entirely functioning town, envisioned by the late architect as an accessible model for change.
Simply put, Soleri wanted to inspire others — through Arcosanti — to do the same.
“Of course, Paolo really was a genius,” Stein continues, as he arranges the mountain of papers fanned out haphazardly across his old, wooden desk. “But in saying that, it made the work that he was doing so foreign.”
‘I wanted to make the point to audiences that they could be doing this kind of work, too.”