Thursday, February 10, 2011

Core Concepts: Arcologies

Arcologies are defined by Wiktionary as: "Urban development theory proposed by Paolo Soleri involving three-dimensional building methods and efficient use of space and resources; An extremely large habitat or settlement, sufficient to maintain an internal ecology as well as an extremely high human population density." Wikipedia offers this definition: "Arcology, a portmanteau of the words 'architecture' and 'ecology,' is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of enormous habitats (hyperstructures) of extremely high human population density." It should also be noted that further-on in the Wikipedia entry they amend the definition slightly with this restatement: "...An extremely large habitat or settlement, sufficient to maintain an internal ecology as well as an extremely high human population density."

Essentially an Arcology is a very large-scale, autonomous habitat-structure, sometimes referred to as a megacity or megastructure, that encloses both a human population and its own internal ecology, allowing these structures to occupy regions that otherwise might be completely uninhabitable such as on ocean floors (Deep Domes), suspended on tethers over gas giants, in the cold void of space, hitched to comets, nestled underneath the crustal shell of barren worlds, on the darkside of moons, or even less exotic locales such as the rims of the Great Rift or deep beneath the sunny streets of the Fifth Arrondissement as in the case of the Tenement Towers on Riskail or out amongst the Fringeworlds. At least one known Coreworld, Jezeal, is entirely enclosed within a single planetary-scale Arcological Complex (Arcplex) and it is rumored that there are variant forms of Concentriplexes enclosing entire planetary orbits amongst the Technophiliate, Autonocracy, Seimgress and other such Exocultures dedicated and oriented towards Macroscale and Megascale Engineering. The Gas Giant Archipelagos are another example of a form of megascale arcological development.

Whether or not the contained population is of any given size or type is no longer considered an important aspect of the root definition.

Paolo Soleri began construction on Arcosanti in 1970. Arcosanti is the first Arcology ever attempted along the lines established by Paolo Soleri in his various published works. He coined the terms 'Arcology,' 'Cosanti,' and 'Arcosanti.'  Soleri is the secular saint of the arcology, the visionary who set things into motion and made the first one manifest as an example of what could be done, much as his former instructor Frank Lloyd Wright did with his Taliesin West, which is not too far away from Soleri's Arcosanti in Arizona.

This is something very real. The first steps have been taken and more is being learned and developed and experimented with each year as Arcosanti endures, evolves and inspires.

But two other visionaries had glimmerings of this concept before Soleri was able to make it his own. H. G. Wells described what might be one of the very first attempts to express the concept of an arcology in fiction in his novel When the Sleeper Wakes, and William Hope Hodgson described a fairly straight forward (for Hodgson) arcology with his megascale grey-metal Pyramid-shaped last redoubt  in The Nightland. Others have since picked-up the concept of the arcology and made it all their own, not the least being Niven & Pournelle's city of Todos Santos featured in Oath of Fealty. There have been others, many, many others who have likewise made use of Soleri's brainchild, and why not? It's an absolutely fascinating idea and one that looks to be coming closer to manifest reality every decade past the Seventies we manage to get.

We haven't had the opportunity to read Ballard's High Rise yet, but it is on the list of books to get right away, and we've been looking over the Wikipedia entry for Paradise Towers from Doctor Who as recommended by Porky. What other instances of Arcologies should we investigate as possible sources of inspiration? Doesn't Warhammer 40K make use of Arcologies somewhat?


  1. WH40K has hive cities, wildly overpopulated and overbuilt industrial cityscapes. Arcology x ant hive + gothic fever dream aesthetic and rigid caste divisions within a framework of urban feudalism.

    The hives had entire cultures dedicated to scavenging the garbage of previous generations (sump farming, archaeotech treasure hunts, psychic drugs transubstantiated out of centuries-old soylent green, etc).

    Scans of setting material for the original Necromunda:Confrontation skirmish game:

    Downloads for the successor game Necromunda:Underhive (more influenced by Westerns than 2000AD):

    Moebius' Incal/Metabarons had similar, but built as massive subterranean funnel shapes instead of ant hills.

  2. @Chris: Thanks for the information. We do have hivatats and other hive-inspired structures, especially where the Harquo are involved, but not like what you're describing.

    Funny you mention Soylent Green--we found it over at Google at this link. We haven't posted the movie to any of our blogs because we're not sure whether or not it's in or out of copyright, and frankly we just don't want to deal with the potential ugliness.

    WH40K sounds more gonzo-bizarre and interesting the more we hear about it. Too bad it takes loads of money to get involved.

    Sump farming, archaeotech treasure hunting, transubstantiated psychotropics derived from century-old garbage...that all sounds like our kind of thing.

    Moebius & Jodorowsky's Incal/Metabarons are another excellent reference--the City Shaft is definitely another excellent take on the arcology concept.

    Someone else just brought up Blade Runner as well. Another interesting approach.

  3. There's not much I can add to what Chris has said on the 40K approach - he's set the character of Necromunda down extremely well in those few key words.

    I'd recommend reading especially pages 59-73 of the rulebook pdf, at Chris' second link, for all that bounty of thought. The older art is largely absent from this new file, but there is what was a new or previously unused piece, in its largest form on page 93, which gives a wonderful sense of the sump concept - look at the vaulting in the background! Older pieces on pages 39 and 76 suggest possible landscapes too. Many of the dusty character studies are full of baroque styling. Look up John Blanche for more amazing - and weird - pieces of art.

    Try these images too for a sense of the game and setting:

    I'd recommend also having a skim through the Necromunda threads at the Eastern Fringe:

    Much is game-related - perhaps useful in itself - but there are gems like this one on mutations:

    The first image in this thread could even be the oldest exterior view of a hive; it was used with the Confrontation incarnation Chris mentions, probably to suggest a hive on Necromunda named Palatine:

    I do seem to remember a hive being a location in the old Ian Watson Inquisition War novel trilogy, and that would have been an early vision of the concept.

  4. Gigacrawler, which is this concept taken to (very cool) extremes.

  5. @huth: You make a good point, however people tend to make distinctions and labels and to sort things out into various categories based upon comparison. It is also interesting to see how this idea has evolved from Hodgson's Redoubts to Soleri's Arcologies, to the more recent innovations and extrapolations. When one speaks of 'Hives' in this context, they may well be invoking a whole lot more than just a deft resonance with Well's Selenites or some clever metaphor combining bees with modern urban culture. It is good to have some idea of what the words, the terms, we use or employ might mean to those who read them. Context can make a great deal of difference in the course of a story, a scenario, a game, or pretty much anything else.


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