Paolo Soleri Amphitheater - September 21, 2011

"The popular outdoor music venue featured an extraordinary organic design created by visionary architect and environmentalist, Paolo Soleri..."

From 1970 until its closing in 2010, the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater was an exquisite asset to Santa Fe residents and visitors. The popular outdoor music venue featured an extraordinary organic design created by visionary architect and environmentalist, Paolo Soleri.

The amphitheater was constructed 45 years ago on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School. The concrete bowls and domes were cast using Soleri’s innovative methods of earth-form construction. Placed against the backdrop of the high desert sunsets, the shapes of the amphitheater created a surreal
environment, which made each performance even more special. Until its closing in 2010, the venue hosted a remarkable catalog of musical artists including Carlos Santana, ZZ Top, Los Lobos, Lyle Lovett and countless others.

Born in Turin, Italy and living in Arizona since 1956, Soleri has continuously pursued the construction of Arcosanti, a model community which reflects the architect’s concepts of community and ecological living. The investigations pursued at Arcosanti form the basis of the unusual methods and architectural
vocabulary found at the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater. These ideas can be further explored in Soleri’s publication Arcology, City in the Image of Man.

Although Soleri’s creation in Santa Fe saw decades of valuable use, changes came about in recent years. The construction of competing outdoor venues in Albuquerque and other places led to financial struggle. The final curtain came down in the summer of 2010. At the time of this writing, the venerable structure is marked for demolition and the schedule of this sad event is yet to be disclosed. Since the amphitheater is built on Native American trust land, it is not subject to the architectural preservation regulations of the State of New Mexico or of the City of Santa Fe.

This author believes that arguments on the merits of preservation, while being met with politeness and courtesy, may do little to save the amphitheater. A more hopeful approach to preserving the structure might lie with entrepreneurship through partnering or through association with the Native American
owners. A pragmatic business plan that realistically shows a financial return could prove highly persuasive. This might require compromise, however, for purists of preservation. A venue for amplified music may be more viable when incorporated with a gaming resort (gag?) rather than when standing by itself.

Whether by a miracle or by some creative business scheme, the continued existence of the architectural treasure would bring a sigh of relief to a great number of Santa Feans.

Greg Allegretti has practiced architecture in Santa Fe for 25 years. He takes delight in sustainable design and green building.