What is an arcology, and why does it matter? The original word ‘arcology’ was created by Paolo Soleri in 1969 as a portmanteau of ‘architecture’ and ‘ecology’. He believed that this generated concept would help to convey the evolution of the human city-organism, and its necessity for our future as a species on this planet. His magnum opus, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, goes into a general degree of depth regarding this, though it fails to define the cities as anything more than very broad ideas. While this is a definition of arcology, it is important to critique various works to help distill the truest function and purpose of a real, practical, arcology.
The work Soleri performed helped to inspire decades of iteration, resulting in grand prestige projects like the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid, or Crystal Island. However, none of these have been built, and all of them have been the antithesis of the properly understood definition of an arcology.
To merge the city into the environment – to bridge the gap between architecture and ecology – you must hold onto the awareness that the vastness of structures like the Crystal Island only seek to maintain efficiency in space use, and do not in truth integrate themselves into the biosphere as a component organ. This element of design is one of the most often overlooked portions of the original arcology, and one that leads to such failed creations.
Why is this important? We look at the very word itself: ‘architecture’ and ‘ecology’ – a merger of two ideas. To try and distill that into purely architecture as a demonstration of a firm’s engineering prowess misses the point entirely. Rather, the integration of the design process directly into the environment as a component of it attains the true definition of an arcology. But how is this expressed realistically you may ask? We’ve seen efforts akin to this in history, with an explosion of interest in the modern age as climate change continues its relentless march forward. Buildings that incorporate the native ecology exist, such as Changi Airport with the ‘Jewel’ rainforest. Bringing together the reality of design from both an ecological perspective and a human perspective will allow us to finally attain the true dream of arcology.
However, the question arises as to why you would build such a thing, given the high level of complexity involved? The answer lies in the efficiency of the structure. By design, it is meant to house all food production, water distillation, sewage processing, material extraction/recycling, and local levels of industrial production. However, it should be noted that when Soleri invented the concept, it was 1969, and he had no idea the technology we would have access to today. In that regard there is a modification that I would like to present – instead of industrial production, it becomes a matter of necessary production. Economies of scale can apply to things like mass transit or other larger scale elements, but on the individual level a huge amount of the items we use on a daily basis can in effect be 3D printed thanks to tremendous advances over the last decade.
Degrowth as a tied in component of the arcology helps to achieve greater efficiency while also increasing quality of life and reducing dramatically the human impact on the climate. By ensuring the integration of the arcology into the biosphere as an organelle of the greater cell within the vastness of the Earth organism, we can actively help repair our damaged world.