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Concept design for the NOAH (New Orleans Arcology Habitat) proposal, designed by E. Kevin Schopfer[1]

Arcology, a portmanteau of "architecture" and "ecology",[2] is a vision of architectural design principles for very densely populated habitats. The concept has been primarily popularized, and the term itself coined, by architect Paolo Soleri. It also appears in science fiction.[3] These structures have been largely hypothetical insofar as no 'arcology' envisioned by Soleri himself has yet been completed, but he posited that a completed arcology would provide space for a variety of residential, commercial, and agricultural facilities while minimizing individual human environmental impact. Arcologies are often portrayed in sci-fi as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.


  • Development 1
  • Similar real-world projects 2
  • In popular culture 3
    • Novels and comics 3.1
    • Films and television 3.2
    • Video games 3.3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


An arcology is distinguished from a merely large building in that it is designed to lessen the impact of human habitation on any given ecosystem. It could be self-sustainable, employing all or most of its own available resources for a comfortable life: power; climate control; food production; air and water conservation and purification; sewage treatment; etc. An arcology is designed to make it possible to supply those items for a large population. An arcology would supply and maintain its own municipal or urban infrastructures in order to operate and connect with other urban environments apart from its own.

Arcology was proposed to reduce human impact on natural resources. Arcology designs might apply conventional building and civil engineering techniques in very large but practical projects in order to achieve pedestrian economies of scale that have proven, post-automobile, to be difficult to achieve in other ways.

Frank Lloyd Wright proposed an early version[4] called Broadacre City although, in contrast to an arcology, Wright's idea is comparatively two-dimensional and depends on a road network. Wright's plan described transportation, agriculture, and commerce systems that would support an economy. Critics said that Wright's solution failed to account for population growth, and assumed a more rigid democracy than the U.S.A. actually has.

Buckminster Fuller proposed the Old Man River's City project, a domed city with a capacity of 125,000, as a solution to the housing problems in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Paolo Soleri proposed later solutions, and coined the term 'arcology'.[5] Soleri describes ways of compacting city structures in three dimensions to combat two-dimensional urban sprawl, to economize on transportation and other energy uses. Like Wright, Soleri proposed changes in transportation, agriculture, and commerce. Soleri explored reductions in resource consumption and duplication, land reclamation; he also proposed to eliminate most private transportation. He advocated for greater "frugality" and favored greater use of shared social resources, including public transit (and public libraries).

Similar real-world projects

Arcosanti is an experimental "arcology prototype" - a demonstration project under construction in central Arizona. Designed by Paolo Soleri, its primary purpose is to demonstrate Soleri's personal designs, his application of principles of arcology to create a pedestrian-friendly urban form.

Many cities in the world have proposed projects adhering to the design principles of the arcology concept, like Tokyo, and Dongtan near Shanghai.[6] The Dongtan project may have collapsed, and it failed to open for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.[7]

Certain urban projects reflect arcology principles. Pedestrian connection systems often provide a wide range of goods and services in a single structure. Some examples include the +15 system in downtown Calgary, Montréal’s RÉSO or the Minneapolis Skyway System and The Windscreen in Fermont, Quebec. They include supermarkets, malls and entertainment complexes. The +15 is the world's most extensive skywalk, at 16 km (9.9 mi) in total length. Minneapolis has the longest single path, at 13 km (8 mi). Seward's Success, Alaska was never built, but would have been a small city just outside of Anchorage. Chicago has a sizeable tunnel system known as the Chicago Pedway connecting a portion of the buildings in the Chicago Loop.

The Las Vegas Strip has many arcology features to protect people from the 45 °C (113 °F) heat. Many major casinos 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. It is possible to live in this complex without need to venture outside, except the Strip has not generally been considered self-sustainable. Soleri did not advocate for enclosed cities, although he did sketch a design and build a model of an 'arcology' for outer space.

The Toronto downtown area features an underground pedestrian network, PATH. Multiple high-rises are connected by a series of underground tunnels. It is possible to live in this complex without needing to venture outside, but the PATH network is not self-sustaining, nor is it presently self-sustainable. The total network spans 28-kilometres (17 mi).

McMurdo Station of the United States Antarctic Program and other scientific research stations on the continent of Antarctica resemble the popular conception of an arcology as a technologically advanced, relatively self-sufficient human community. The Antarctic research base provides living and entertainment amenities for roughly 3,000 staff who visit each year. Its remoteness and the measures needed to protect its population from the harsh environment give it an insular character. The station is not self-sufficient — the U.S. military delivers 30,000 cubic metres (800,000 US gal) of fuel and 5 kilotonnes (11 million pounds) of supplies and equipment yearly through its Operation Deep Freeze resupply effort[8] — but it is isolated from conventional support networks. The base generates electricity with its own power plant, and grows fruits and vegetables in a hydroponic green house when resupply is non-existent. Under international treaty, it must avoid damage to the surrounding ecosystem.

Crystal Island is a proposed arcology in Moscow, Russia. In 2009, construction was postponed indefinitely due to the global economic crisis.

The Begich Towers operates like a small-scale arcology encompassing nearly all of the population of Whittier, Alaska. The pair of buildings contains residential housing as well as a school, grocery, and municipal offices Whittier once boasted a second structure known as the Buckner Building. The Buckner Building still stands but was deemed unfit for habitation after the 1969 earthquake. [9]

Arcosanti in 2006

In popular culture

Most proposals to build real arcologies have failed due to financial, structural or conceptual shortcomings. Arcologies are therefore found primarily in fictional works.[10] One significant example is the novel Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In the novel, a segment of the Los Angeles population has moved into an arcology. The plot examines the social changes that result, both inside and outside the arcology. Thus the arcology is presented not just as a plot device but as a subject of critique.[11]

Novels and comics

  • 1899H.G. Wells's story "When the Sleeper Wakes" describes a rudimentary version of pre-Soleri arcology, having developed from the evolution of transportation. These are hotel-like and dominate the surrounding landscape, having replaced all towns and cities, albeit preserving their names.[12]
  • 1912William Hope Hodgson's 1912 story "The Last Redoubt" from The Night Land features the first example of what we now would call an arcology, albeit with full artificial ecology, agriculture, public transport by mobile roadways. The future Earthlings depicted – millions of years into the future – have different reasons for building their metallic pyramid.[13]
  • 1940–85 – In Isaac Asimov's Robot series, Earth's population lives in large hyperstructures simply called Cities. In Asimov's Empire and 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.
  • 1967–68 – In John Christopher's 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.
  • 1971 – In the novel The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, the characters all live in "Urban Monads", self-contained three-kilometer-high hyperstructures of 1000-storeys each, providing everything necessary to the society.
  • 1974 – In the Joe Haldeman novel The Forever War much of the action between William Mandella's first and second deployments occurs in an arcology.
  • 1975J. G. Ballard's novel High Rise features a luxury arcology in which disparity between social classes among the residents eventually leads to widespread anarchy and a reversion to primitive archetypes.
  • 1977Frank Herbert's novel The Dosadi Experiment focuses on the creation of a super race through the control of another race, that forces them to live in an arcological situation.
  • 1977–96 – In Gregory Benford's Galactic Center Saga, several thousand years in the future descendants of humanity have migrated deep towards the galactic core, to directly compete with the machine based civilizations. To survive, humanity is forced to transform itself, adding biological and cybernetic enhancements, to compete with the machines. Over 5000 years, as humanity falls further behind, culture decays from the Chandelier Age where humanity lived in great citadels between the stars, to the High Arcology Era and finally the Citadel Age.
  • 1977–present – In the Judge Dredd comic stories, originally published in 2000 AD, 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.
  • 1982 – In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's collaboration Oath of Fealty, 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.
  • 1984–88William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy features various arcologies, including the "projects" (a megastructure built to provide heat, water, power, and food to its residents) and those built by global corporations to house their top research scientists. They are also featured in the Bridge Trilogy.
  • 1986–present – In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novels, the inhabitants of the planet Komarr live in arcologies, because the surface of the planet is inhospitable.
  • 1989–99David 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.
  • 1996–99 – All the remaining cities of the Earth are hyperstructures in Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy. Arcology structures are located on worlds in Peter F. Hamilton's The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy).

Films and television

  • 1976 – The city in the film Logan's Run is entirely self-contained for all resources, except power, which is said to be supplied by water moved by the tides.
  • 1982 – In the film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, the main offices of the fictional Tyrell Corporation (a Megacorp) resemble a hyperstructure.
  • 1985–89 – In the post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk series Appleseed by Masamune Shirow, in which hyperstructures dominate the skyline of the city Olympus.
  • 1999 – 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 deep underground. 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.
  • 1999–2007 – The anime GetBackers has overarching plots involving a semi-constructed megabuilding called the Limitless Fortress. However, because its construction was abandoned, it has few inhabitants, and those it has may not all be (entirely) real.
  • 2002 – 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.
  • 2002 – In the anime of Shangri-La, the arcology called Atlas stands behind a Tokyo abandoned after a devastating earthquake in the 2060s. It was intended to hold about three million people, and only those with connections or those who were chosen by lottery are allowed to live there.
  • 2005 – In the film Aeon Flux, Earth's surviving humans live in Bregna, an enclosed and self-sufficient city-state.
  • 2005 – In the fourth-season finale of the science fiction show Andromeda, a large battle takes place in space around an antiquated space hyperstructure known simply as 'Arcology'.
  • 2006–07 – In the anime Code Geass, the Holy Britannian Empire constructs an arcology over the ruins of Tokyo called the Tokyo Settlement.

Video games

  • Will Wright's computer game SimCity 2000 allows the construction of four different types of arcologies. Arcologies reappeared in SimCity as a "Great Work."
  • Another Wright game, Spore, features bubbled cities that serve the same function. In Wright's 1990 SimEarth, "Nanotech Age" cities eventually advance to an exodus of the entire sentient species of the planet.
  • Two levels of the video game Deus Ex: Invisible War posits (circa 2072) a futuristic arcology, simply called the Arcology, on the edge of an ancient medina in Cairo.
  • In Chrono Trigger, the structure known as the Black Omen that appears across timelines after Queen Zeal summons Lavos to the Ocean Palace is defined as an arcology. The city of Chronopolis seen in Chrono Cross can also be considered as an arcology.
  • 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.
  • The tutorial in the computer game Dystopia takes place in Yggdrasil's first arcology.
  • In Mass Effect the Codex (an in-game encyclopedia) explains that Earth is composed mainly of Arcology buildings.
  • In Final Fantasy VII the city of Midgar and the military base of Junon (both are built by the Shinra Company) are examples of arcology.
  • In Final Fantasy VIII the city of Esthar and the flying universities of Galbadia and Balamb are arcologies.
  • The Outpost computer game and its sequel both focus on building arcologies (called 'colonies' in the game) on various planets to contain what remains of Humanity after Earth is obliterated by an asteroid.
  • The game Brink is set on a futuristic arcology to preserve humanity after a natural flooding disaster.[14]
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, Cocoon is an example of an arcology.
  • In Xenogears, the city of Kislev is the remains of a very ancient (4000 + years) military base that is a self-contained city.

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 in the billions. Arcologies are so widespread that some planets, dubbed 'hive worlds', are constructed entirely of hyperstructures. Necromunda, an offshoot 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 Rifts RPG, the capital of the Coalition States is the city of Chi-Town. Along with some of the other major Coalition cities, Chi-Town is considered a "Mega-City" in that its entire population is housed inside one giant structure consisting of more than thirty levels, each of which are several stories high and contain a number of sub-levels.
  • 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 Mind Storm Labs'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
  • The Fallout franchise, created in 1997 by Interplay, contains several self-sustaining vaults that are cities. Each vault can hold around 1000 people, has its own self-sustaining power supply, water treatment center and built in food creators. Most vaults however, are known to have failed in less than 50 years or so in the series timeline, from attacks by enclave or mutants, destruction, or accidents. The only known vaults to be completely running 200 years after the bombs dropped are Vault 101, located in Washington DC, and Vault 21, Located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • In Android: Netrunner, players controlling a corporation can construct arcologies or control resources associated with them.

See also



  1. ^ Seth, Radhika. "Heavenly Abode" on the Yanko Design website (August 17, 2009). Accessed: 2015-04-29
  2. ^
  3. ^ Peter Hamilton uses arcologies in his books such as Neutronium Alchemist
  4. ^ Wright, Frank Lloyd, "An Organic Architecture"
  5. ^ Soleri, Paolo, "Arcology: The City in the Image of Man"
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Ash, Theodore (2014) Neoarcology
  11. ^ Seed, David (2011) Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction
  12. ^ Town In One Building by H.G. Wells from When the Sleeper Wakes
  13. ^
  14. ^

Further reading

  • Soleri, Paolo Arcology: The City in the Image of Man 1969:Cambridge, Massachusetts MIT Press

External links

  • – Useful links
  • The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson (Full text online)
  • Victory City
  • A discussion of arcology concepts

Usage of "arcology" vs. "hyperstructure"

  • ("An arcology in southern China" on front page)
  • Arcology ("An arcology is a self-contained environment...")
  • SculptorsWiki: Arcology ("The only arcology yet on Earth...")
  • Review of Shadowrun: Renraku Arcology ("What's an arcology? A self-contained, largely self-sufficient living, working, recreational structure...")
  • Floating Arcology A design to prevent against rising sea levels.
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