Arcology, from the words “ecology” and “architecture,” is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of enormous habitats (hyperstructures) of extremely high human population density. These largely hypothetical structures, called “arcologies,” would contain a variety of residential and commercial facilities and minimize individual human environmental impact. They are often portrayed as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.
The concept has been primarily popularized by architect Paolo Soleri, and appears commonly in science fiction.
Eden Project, Cornwall, England
The term arcology is restricted mainly to theoretical discussions and fictional depictions, such as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Oath of Fealty or as elements in video games, such as SimCity 2000, Escape Velocity Nova, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Call to Power II, Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword and Mass Effect.
The first mention of arcology can be found in HG Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes, published in 1899. A more in-depth description of arcology’s design principles can be found in “The Last Redoubt” from The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson, first published in 1912. In it Hodgson envisions structures complete with a full artificial ecology, agriculture, and public transport by mobile roadways.
J.G. Ballard wrote a dystopian take on a self contained building which is much like an arcology in his 1975 novel High Rise.
Yet another mention of the term can be found in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer.
Similar real-world projects
Arcosanti is an experimental town under construction in central Arizona. Designed by Paolo Soleri, its primary purpose is to demonstrate principles of arcology.
Many cities in the world have proposed projects adhering to the design principles of the arcology concept, like Tokyo, and Dongtan near Shanghai. The first phase of Dongtan is scheduled to open by 2010.
Certain cities and urban projects exhibit some characteristics that reflect the design principles of arcology. Pedestrian connection systems, like the +15 system in downtown Calgary, or the Minneapolis Skyway System are examples. They are self-contained apparatuses, with interconnected supermarkets, malls and entertainment complexes. The +15 is the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk system with a total length of 16 km (10 miles), and Minneapolis possesses the longest continuous system, with eight miles (13 km) of length.
Co-op City in the Bronx, New York City is another example, with many services provided on-site.
The Las Vegas Strip exhibits characteristics of arcology inspired design. Most of the major casino resorts are connected by tunnels, footbridges, and monorails. It is possible to travel from Mandalay Bay at the south end of the Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center, three miles (5 km) to the north, without using streets. In many cases, it is possible to travel between several different casinos without ever going outdoors.
The McMurdo Station of the United States Antarctic Program and other scientific research stations on the continent of Antarctica may most closely approximate the popular conception of an arcology as a technologically-advanced, self-sufficient human community. Although by no means entirely self-sufficient (the U.S. Military “Operation Deep Freeze” resupply effort delivers 8 million gallons of fuel and 11 million pounds of supplies and equipment yearly) the base has a very insular character as a necessary shelter and protection from an extremely harsh environment, is geographically isolated from conventional support networks, and must avoid damage to the surrounding Antarctic ecosystem due to international treaty. It generates electricity with its own power plant, grows fruits and vegetables in a hydroponic green house, and provides a full range of living and entertainment amenities.
Crystal Island is a proposed arcology project in Moscow, Russia.
In 2008 the design firm Timelinks proposed a 2.3 square kilometers 1 million inhabatant carbon-neutral super-structure to be built in Dubai, UAE with many arcology concepts (see Inhabitat » ZIGGURAT: Dubai Carbon Neutral Pyramid will House 1 Millionby Evelyn Lee).
In popular culture
Novels and comics
H.G. Wells’s 1899 tale “When the Sleeper Wakes” describes a rudimentary version of pre-Soleri arcology, having developed from the evolution of transportation. They are hotel-like and dominate the surrounding landscape, having replaced all towns and cities though preserving their names.
William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 novel The Night Land features the first example of what we now would call an arcology, though the future Earthlings depicted — millions of years into the future, in fact — have different reasons for building their metallic pyramid.
In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s collaboration Oath of Fealty (1982), much of the action is set in and around Todos Santos, an arcology built in a burnt-out section of Los Angeles that has evolved a separate culture from the city around it. Niven also occasionally refers to arcologies in his Known Space series, particularly in the stories involving Gil Hamilton.
In the novel The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, everyone lived in ‘Urban Monads’ that were self-contained three kilometer high hyperstructures. People hardly ever departed.
In Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series, Earth’s population lives in large hyperstructures simply called Cities. In Asimov’s Empire and the The Foundation series, the capital planet Trantor of the galactic empire is a completely built-up planet, covered in its entirety with tall buildings and subterranean structures.
All the remaining cities of the Earth are hyperstructures in Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.
In the Judge Dredd comic stories, originally published in 2000 AD comic, the megalopolis of Mega-City One consists of many hundreds, if not thousands, of City Blocks, in which a citizen can be born, grow, live, and die without ever leaving.
William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy features various Arcologies, namely the “projects.” It is a megastructure that has been constructed with electricity, heat, oxygen, and food that it produced. They are also featured in the Bridge Trilogy.
David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series depicts a dystopian future Earth in which almost the entire population lives within several hyperstructures that are thousands of feet tall and span entire continents.
J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel “High Rise” featured a luxury arcology in which disparity between social classes among the residents eventually led to widespread anarchy and a reversion to primitive archetypes.
In Samuel Youd’s 1967-68 trilogy of novels The Tripods, an alien race known as “The Masters” live in three huge domed arcologies built on Earth to use as a base from which to colonise the planet. The structures are made from a golden material, and are capped with a crystal that replicates the atmospheric conditions of The Masters’ home planet.
In Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga novels, the inhabitants of the planet Komarr live in arcologies, as the surface of the planet is inhospitable.
The James Blish and Normal L. Knight collaboration “A Torrent of Faces”, set in the future where a trillion people inhabit the earth, features several semi-enclosed ‘cities’ – massive buildings big enough to house, entertain and feed hundreds of millions of people, and therefore may be considered arcologies. The city/building of London apparently extends as far as the Cornish coast.
Films and television
Arcologies are common elements in futuristic anime and manga titles. An example would be the post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk series Appleseed by Masamune Shirow, in which hyperstructures dominate the skyline of the city Olympus.
In the 1982 film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, the main offices of the fictional Tyrell Corporation (a Megacorp) resemble a hyperstructure.
The Genom Tower arcologies (among other things) in the anime Bubblegum Crisis were partially inspired by the Tyrell hyperstructure; the series also features an underground “Geo City.”
In the film Equilibrium, an arcology named Libria is the last human civilization, a society in which peace is kept by the forced administration of an injected liquid drug designed to completely suppress emotions.
In the science-fiction movie series The Matrix, the last human city, known as Zion, is a hyperstructure. Due to nuclear scarring of the earth’s surface and atmosphere, the hyperstructure is buried deeply under ground. While ecologically sparse, the habitat’s climate is controlled by complex machinery in the lower levels. The population is in the realm of 200,000. Due to the nature of the aggression from the machines, Zion is an example of a heavily fortified hyperstructure.
In the season four finale of the science fiction show Andromeda a large battle takes place in space around an antiquated space hyperstructure known simply as ‘Arcology’.
In the episode “11:59” of Star Trek: Voyager’s fifth season (original air date: May 5, 1999), Earth’s first self-contained ecosystem known as “The Millennium Gate” was referenced. Said to be one kilometer tall and began construction in 2001.
In a number of movies, most notably the Star Wars prequels, the cities in the more populated worlds have buildings many miles tall, effectively approaching the completely built-over world of Trantor in the classic Isaac Asimov Foundation trilogy.
In episode 87 of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, the crew encounter Arkology, a peaceful society that live in a large self sufficient space station that obtains it’s materials from an asteroid.
The “Launch Arco”, from SimCity 2000
Will Wright’s computer game SimCity 2000 allows the construction of four different types of arcologies. More primitive models hold quite a few people in exchange for producing considerable pollution, but later models are denser and cleaner. When 250 of the most advanced model, the “Launch Arco” (pictured), are built, an “exodus sequence” starts in which all Launch Arcos blast into space. This parallels parts of Soleri’s book, in which hyperstructures were shown as being appropriate for environments in space, under the sea, in polar lands, etc.
Another Wright game, Spore, features bubbled cities that serve the same function. In Wright’s 1990 SimEarth, “Nanotech Age” cities eventually advance to a mass exodus of the entire sentient species of the planet.
Two levels of the computer game Deus Ex: Invisible War posits a futuristic arcology, simply called the Arcology, on the edge of an ancient medina in Cairo.
The Domes seen in the 24th century in Chrono Trigger could be considered arcologies.
In the computer game Afterlife, the player controlling Heaven and Hell can eventually purchase Love Domes or Omnibulges. Functioning similarly to arcologies, these structures are the remnants of transcended/destroyed Heaven/Hells that are able to hold billions of souls.
In the computer game Civilization: Call to Power, the “Arcology Advance,” found in a near future part of the technology list, grants access to the Arcology building, which reduces overcrowding effects in its host city. This is also available in Call to Power II
In the computer game Escape Velocity: Nova, many planets that are part of the Auroran Empire have multiple arcologies on them. Many of their populations number in the hundreds of billions.
The tutorial in the computer game Dystopia takes place in Yggdrasil’s first arcology.
The wholly self-sustained utopian society ‘Rapture’ in the computer and Xbox 360 game BioShock is an underwater example of an arcology.
In Mass Effect the Codex explains that Earth is composed mainly of Arcology buildings.
In the manga and anime world of BLAME! the plot takes place only in a gigantic megastructure/arcology simply called the City, which is still being expanded by its automatic systems.
Role-playing and table-top games
In the table-top strategy game Warhammer 40,000, hyperstructures, called “hives,” are extremely common and are the main method of housing large populations. Arcologies are so widespread that some planets, Holy Terra and Mars amongst others, dubbed ‘hive worlds’, are constructed entirely of hyperstructures. Necromunda, an off-shoot game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, involves conflict between rival gangs on the hive world of Necromunda.
In the RPG Shadowrun, a number of hyperstructures such as the “Renraku Arcology” exist by 2050, most of which are mega-corporate controlled. A major theme to these is the desire of a large corporation to control every aspect of its employees’ lives. A major meta-plot element was the sealing off of the aforementioned Renraku Arcology in Seattle when the advanced computer control system awakened into a self-aware AI named Deus.
In the RPG Trinity, a number of hyperstructures exist, with the largest being that of the New New York Arcology run by the Psi-Order Orgotek.
In the RPG Rifts, the capital of the Coalition States is the city of Chi-Town. Chi-town (as well as several other Coalition cities) is considered a “Mega-City”, in that the entire city is housed inside one giant structure, which consists of more than thirty levels, each several stories high, and several sub-levels.
The tongue-in-cheek RPG Paranoia primarily takes place in the futuristic and mostly computer controlled arcology Alpha Complex.
In R.Talsorian’s follow up to Cyberpunk 2020, Cybergeneration, one of the player archetype Yo-Gangs was called the “Arcorunner”. The character was a child who has grown up in the arcologies, knowing every aspect about them.
In WildFire’s CthulhuTech RPG, humanity has been forced to live in fortified arcologies due to attacks from the Old Ones and the Migou.
In Mindstorm’s Alpha Omega RPG, the world’s populations have retreated into arcology city-states to protect themselves from the war-torn decimation of the Earth’s surface
^ Soleri, Paolo (1973), The Bridge Between Matter & Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit; The Arcology of Paolo Soleri, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, pp. 46, ISBN 9780385023610
^ British to help China build ‘eco-cities’ | Business | The Observer
^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
^ Antarctic Hydroponics web site
^ Town In One Building by H.G. Wells from When the Sleeper Wakes
^ Hodgson, William Hope (1912), The Night Land
Soleri, Paolo Arcology: The City in the Image of Man 1969:Cambridge, Massachusetts MIT Press
Arcosanti panoramaArcosanti is an experimental town that began construction in 1970 in central Arizona, 70 miles (110 km) north of Phoenix, at 34°20′35″N 112°6′6″WCoordinates: 34°20′35″N 112°6′6″W,
elevation 3,732 feet (1,130 meters). Architect Paolo Soleri, using a concept he calls arcology (a portmanteau of architecture and ecology), started the town to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth.
Arcosanti is being built on 25 acres (0.1 km²) of a 4,060 acre (16 km²) land preserve, keeping its inhabitants near the natural countryside. The Arcosanti web site describes how an arcology functions in Arcosanti: “The built and the living interact as organs would in a highly evolved being. Many systems work together, with efficient circulation of people and resources, multi-use buildings, and solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling.” Paolo Soleri is the founding architect of Arcosanti. Soleri coined the term Arcology. In an arcology, architecture and ecology come together in the design of the city. The major concepts of an arcology are complexity, miniaturization, and duration.
The long-term design of Arcosanti has changed somewhat multiple times since work began. The eventual target population is somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000. The current population generally varies between 70 and 160, depending on the number of students and interns working at the time. Existing structures include a four-story visitors’ center/cafe/gift shop, the bronze-casting apse (quarter-dome) carefully situated to admit maximal winter sun and minimal summer sun, a ceramics apse, two large barrel vaults, a ring of apartment residences and storefronts around an outdoor amphitheatre, a community swimming pool, an office complex, and Soleri’s suite. A two-bedroom “Sky Suite” occupies the highest point in the complex and is available for overnight guests.
In Arcosanti, apartments, businesses, production, technology, open space, studios, and educational and cultural events are all accessible, while privacy is paramount in the overall design. Greenhouses are planned to provide gardening space for public and private use, and act as solar collectors for winter heat.
Architecturally, Arcosanti is remarkable for its use of tilt-up concrete panels cast in a bed of silt from the local landscape. The silt gives the concrete a unique texture and color, helping the structure to blend with the land. Art is ever-present in the city, with most ceilings having silt-cast art panels embedded on them. All rooftops are accessible, adding another dimension to the city. The intricate, organic design of the city maximizes land use, so the city feels much bigger than it actually is. Similarly, the entire population of the city may be small, but living closely in a dynamic environment increases interactions and bonds, creating abundant stimulus and opportunity.
The city serves as an educational complex where workshops and classes are offered. Students from around the world are constructing Arcosanti. In addition, about 50,000 tourists visit Arcosanti each year.
Funds to build Arcosanti are raised through the sale of windbells. More funds are raised from workshop tuitions, which people (“workshoppers”) pay for a five-week hands-on experience. Workshoppers, together with the resident construction crew, are the principal means by which Arcosanti is constructed.
Jon Jerde acknowledged Paolo Soleri as being one of his influences, and continues to build arcologies throughout the world.
Arcosanti has been criticized for a lack of funding to realize its vision within a practical timeframe.
It has been suggested that even if any major discoveries or theories are achieved through the gradual development of the Arcosanti project, there is now no formal structure to gather, record, and disseminate these ideas to interested stakeholders. The internet, however, may be a perfect host for these purposes.
Others argue that Arcosanti has succeeded more as an educational project. It has hosted over 6,000 participants over what has been almost 40 years. Each person that participates brings part of their experience home with them and to their communities and professional disciplines, disseminating the principles learned.
^ Paolo Soleri Biography, Arcosanti.org