Concept design for the NOAH (New Orleans Arcology Habitat) proposal, designed by E. Kevin Schopfer[1]
Concept design for the NOAH (New Orleans Arcology Habitat) proposal, designed by E. Kevin Schopfer[1]
Buckminster Fuller with a drawing of his domed city proposal
Buckminster Fuller with a drawing of his domed city proposal

Arcology, a portmanteau of "architecture" and "ecology",[2] is a field of creating architectural design principles for very densely populated and ecologically low-impact human habitats.

The term was coined in 1969 by architect Paolo Soleri, who believed that a completed arcology would provide space for a variety of residential, commercial, and agricultural facilities while minimizing individual human environmental impact. These structures have been largely hypothetical, as no arcology, even one envisioned by Soleri himself, has yet been built.

The concept has been popularized by various science fiction writers. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle provided a detailed description of an arcology in their 1981 novel Oath of Fealty. William Gibson mainstreamed the term in his seminal 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, where each corporation has its own self-contained city known as arcologies. More recently, authors such as Peter Hamilton in Neutronium Alchemist and Paolo Bacigalupi in The Water Knife explicitly used arcologies as part of their scenarios. They are often portrayed as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.


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[3] called Broadacre City although, in contrast to an arcology, his 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 US 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".[4] 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 city
Arcosanti city

Arcosanti is an experimental "arcology prototype", a demonstration project under construction in central Arizona since 1970. 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.[5] The Dongtan project may have collapsed, and it failed to open for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.[6]

McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station of the United States Antarctic Program and other scientific research stations on 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 (8,000,000 US gal) of fuel and 5 kilotonnes (11 million pounds) of supplies and equipment yearly through its Operation Deep Freeze resupply effort[7] – but it is isolated from conventional support networks. Under international treaty, it must avoid damage to the surrounding ecosystem.

Begich Towers

Begich Towers operates like a small-scale arcology encompassing nearly all of the population of Whittier, Alaska. The building contains residential housing as well as a police station, 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.[8]

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.[9][10]

See also



  1. ^ Seth, Radhika. "Heavenly Abode" on the Yanko Design website (August 17, 2009). Retrieved April 29, 2015.
  2. ^ Soleri, Paolo (1973), The Bridge Between Matter & Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit; The Arcology of Paolo Soleri, Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, pp. 46, ISBN 978-0-385-02361-0.
  3. ^ Wright, Frank Lloyd, "An Organic Architecture"
  4. ^ Soleri, Paolo, "Arcology: The City in the Image of Man"
  5. ^ Kane, Frank (November 6, 2005). "British to help China build 'eco-cities'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
  6. ^ Fred Pearce (23 April 2009). "Greenwash: The dream of the first eco-city was built on a fiction". the Guardian.
  7. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  8. ^ "Everyone In This Alaskan Town Lives In The Same Building".
  9. ^ Ash, Theodore (2014) Neoarcology
  10. ^ Tate, Karl (July 5, 2013) "Inside Arcology, the City of the Future (Infographic)" Live Science
  11. ^ Silverberg, Robert (1971). The World Inside. New York: Doubleday. pp. 3–4.
  12. ^ Stableford, Brian "Silverberg, Robert" in Clute, John and Nicholls, Peter (eds.) (1995) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 1106. ISBN 0-312-13486-X
  13. ^ Seed, David (2011) Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction
  14. ^ Luke Plunkett (11 July 2011). "The Real Story Behind Sim City's Arcologies". Kotaku.
  15. ^ Alex Hern (14 March 2013). "The depressing suburbanisation of SimCity". New Statesman.

Further reading

Usage of "arcology" vs. "hyperstructure"