The Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid hyperstructure or megacity as featured on the Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering programs

Arcology, a portmanteau of the words "architecture" and "ecology",[1] 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 would contain a variety of residential, commercial, and agricultural facilities and minimize individual human environmental impact. They are often portrayed as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.

The concept has been primarily popularized, and the term itself coined, by architect Paolo Soleri, and appears commonly in science fiction.



An arcology is distinguished from a merely large building in that it is supposed to sustainably supply all or most of the resources for a comfortable life: power, climate control, food production, air and water purification, sewage treatment, etc.. It is supposed to supply these items for a large population. An arcology would need no connections to municipal or urban infrastructure in order to operate.

Arcologies were proposed to reduce human impacts on natural resources. Arcology designs often apply conventional building and civil engineering techniques in very large, but practical projects in order to achieve economies that are difficult to achieve in other ways. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed an early version[2] called Broadacre City. His 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. actually has.

Paolo Soleri proposed later solutions, and coined the term 'arcology'.[3] Soleri describes ways of compacting city structures in three dimensions to combat two-dimensional urban sprawl, and economize on transportation and other energy uses. Soleri's plans aren't just "human beehives." Like Wright, Soleri proposed important changes in transportation, agriculture, and commerce. Soleri explored reductions in resource consumption and duplication, land reclamation, and proposed to eliminate most private transportation. He favored greater use of shared social resources like public libraries.

Similar real-world projects

The largest arcology project under current development is Masdar City near Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. It is projected to house between 45,000 and 50,000 inhabitants on 6 square kilometers, and to have a sustainable, zero-carbon, zero waste ecology.

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.[4] The Dongtan project may have collapsed, and it failed to open for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.[5]

Certain urban projects reflect arcological 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, or the Minneapolis Skyway System. They include supermarkets, malls and entertainment complexes. The +15 is the world's most extensive skywalk, 16 km (9.9 mi). Minneapolis has the longest single path, eight miles (13 km). Seward's Success, Alaska was never built, but would have been a small city just outside of Anchorage. Co-op City in the Bronx, New York City is another example, with many services on-site.

The Las Vegas Strip has many arcological features to protect people from the 45C (110F) 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.

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, self-sufficient human community. Although not self-sufficient (the U.S. Military "Operation Deep Freeze" resupply effort delivers 8 million US gallons (30,000 m3) of fuel and 11 million pounds of supplies and equipment yearly[6]) the base has a very insular character, necessary to protect its population from a harsh environment. It is also isolated from conventional support networks, and must avoid damage to the surrounding ecosystem due to an international treaty. The base generates electricity with its own power plant, and grows fruits and vegetables in a hydroponic green house, when resupply is nonexistent. The base provides living and entertainment amenities for roughly 3,000 staff that visit each year.

Crystal Island is a proposed arcology in Moscow, Russia. As of 2009, construction has been postponed indefinitely due to the global economic crisis.

In 2008, the design firm Timelinks proposed a 2.3 square kilometer, 1 million inhabitant carbon-neutral super-structure to be built in Dubai, UAE. It would have many arcological concepts (see Inhabitat » ZIGGURAT: Dubai Carbon Neutral Pyramid will House 1 Million by Evelyn Lee).

Cultural references

Arcologies would be dramatic, unusual structures that support a different way of life. They are naturally interesting to writers of speculative fiction. The first mention of an arcological structure might be in H. G. Wells's 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.

An arcology is also depicted in the 1968 futuristic novel "The World Inside", by Robert Silverberg, where in the year 2381 the human race lives in 1000-storey-high towers, providing everything necessary to the society (nutrition, energy, entertainment, jobs, etc.). These buildings seem like a cross between a building and a living organism, nourishing and sheltering this futuristic dystopian society.

J. G. Ballard wrote a dystopian take on a self-contained building that is much like an arcology in his 1975 novel High Rise.

Another depiction can be found in William Gibson's 1986 novel Count Zero.

The structure "Fiddler's Green" from George A. Romero's 2005 film Land of the Dead might be an arcology.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Oath of Fealty features an arcology.

Arcologies also appear in video games, such as SimCity 2000, Escape Velocity Nova, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Call to Power II, Shadowrun, and Mass Effect.

Urban Arcologies appear as a key backdrop throughout the science fiction universe of the Trinity Roleplaying Game, which includes major Arcologies depicted in the United States, The United Kingdom, China and Japan.

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, albeit preserving their names.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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 Joe Haldeman novel The Forever War much of the action between William Mandella's first and second deployments occurs in an arcology.
  • In the novel The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, everyone lives in 'Urban Monads': self-contained three-kilometer-high hyperstructures.
  • 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.
  • All the remaining cities of the Earth are hyperstructures in Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy.
  • 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.
  • William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy features various arcologies, namely the "projects", which is a megastructure 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 John Christopher'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, because 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. The city/building of London apparently extends as far as the Cornish coast.
  • 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.
  • Frank 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.

Films and television

  • Arcologies are common elements in futuristic anime and manga titles. An example is 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".
  • The city in the 1976 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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'.
  • 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" is referenced and described as one kilometer tall and having begun construction in 2001.
  • In the Star Wars prequels, the galactic capital planet Coruscant has buildings many miles tall, and approaches the completely built-over condition of Trantor in Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy.
  • In the film "Æon Flux", Earth's surviving humans live in Bregna, an enclosed and self-sufficient city-state.
  • In the film and book City of Ember, the principal city is either the last or one of several underground cities used to escape a devastating war. However, the scale of the city is far below a typical Arcology, having fewer than a thousand residents.
  • In the anime Wolf's Rain, ancient decaying domed cities from the times of the scientific breakthroughs shelter the remainder of humanity.
  • The anime Get Backers 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.

Video games

  • 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 301 of the most advanced model, the "Launch Arco," 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 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.
  • The Domes seen in 1999 and in the 24th century in Chrono Trigger could be considered arcologies. 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.
  • 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.
  • The game Shadowrun (2007 video game) mentions, as one of its important world events, the construction of RNA's Santos Corporate Arcology.
  • The game Shadowrun (SEGA MD video game) includes Renraku Arcology as an in-game location.
  • In Mass Effect the Codex (an in-game encyclopedia) explains that Earth is composed mainly of Arcology buildings.
  • In Final Fantasy VII the massive, plate-suspended city of Midgar is an example of arcology.
  • In the "Next War" mod, included in Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, three levels of arcologies are available as city improvements.
  • The Outpost (video game) 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.
  • Eponymous city of Inganock from Seiken no Inganock: What a Beautiful People is stated to be the first and only successful arcology in its setting. At the start of the game, it has survived over 10 years in complete isolation from the rest of the world and is an example of an arcology in cyberpunk genre.
  • The game Brink is set on a futuristic arcology to preserve humanity after a natural flooding disaster.[9]

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 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 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.
  • 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
  • Arcologies appear in the Buck Rogers XXVC RPG, particularly on ravaged Earth where they have replaced many former metropolitan centers.

See also


  1. ^ 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 
  2. ^ Wright, Frank Lloyd, "An Organic Architecture"
  3. ^ Soleri, Paolo, "Arcology: The City in the Image of Man"
  4. ^ Kane, Frank (November 6, 2005). "British to help China build 'eco-cities'". The Guardian (London).,6903,1635188,00.html. Retrieved April 25, 2010. 
  5. ^ Series: GreenwashPrevious | Next | Index Greenwash: The dream of the first eco-city was built on a fiction | Environment | The Guardian
  6. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  7. ^ Town In One Building by H.G. Wells from When the Sleeper Wakes
  8. ^ Hodgson, William Hope (1912), The Night Land, 
  9. ^

Further reading

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

External links

Usage of "arcology" vs. "hyperstructure":

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