Arcology Arcology YKTTW Discussion

Self-sufficient mega building. Architecture + ecology = arcology.
Better Name Needs Examples
(permanent link) added: 2013-01-27 22:36:28 sponsor: VandalHeartX (last reply: 2013-01-30 14:56:03)

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Arcology , n.: a concept in which the ideal city is a massive vertical structure, which preserves more of the natural environment, a concept combining architecture and ecology as envisioned by Paolo Soleri
Etymology: arc(hitecture) + (ec)ology

Arcology is the arcitectural discipline described in the page quote. An arcology is the result of said discipline, and is a thing with the following three attributes:

The Analysis page for this article describes in depth the core design philosophy of the arcology, as well as some possible "Outside the Box" variations, but if you don't want to navigate away, here you go: Imagine a skyscraper. Every five or so floors, there is an entire floor dedicated to the inner workings of the floors above it. This is called a deck. The deck level houses all power lines, plumbing mains and anything else that needs to work properly for life to be livable with all the modern conveniences. Now make the city cover the ground area of a small city or a large town and realize that the decks number in the triple digits. There's the ideal description in a nutshell.

The name of the game here is self-sufficiency. The second attribute above links to the Closed Circle page because the materials required to keep the systems of the building cannot leave. These processes include food production, waste recycling and environmental refinement (air conditioning and such). People can, in theory, come and go as they please, but the idea is that they don't need to leave. It's worth mentioning that some of the truly huge mega cities in fiction are made up of "arcoplexes," or residentially, commercially, or industrially specialized arcologies that link to each other to create a unified, futuristic ecosystem. After some application of Fridge Logic, City Planet settings almost have to qualify as arcoplexes, otherwise they wouldn't funciton.

This trope tends towards either extreme hard or soft sci-fi, since the full explanation is pretty complex. It's either going to be explained in detail, or it's going to be handwaved. Because we don't currently have the technology required to make an arcology work in the real world, a fully functional arcology in fiction requires some Applied Phlebotinum until Technology Marches On comes into effect. Arcologies appear most often in speculative fiction that tend toward the cynical end of the spectrum, since they are essentially futuristic paradises with a bit of science to back up their justified existence and functionality, and Utopia never holds up under scrutiny. They often appear in video games set After the End or Twenty Minutes into the Future, Cyber Punk stories, and most often feature heavily in stories that rely on an environmental or class warfare aesop.

Because they are so insular and answer all of humanity's material needs, arcologies are a great setting for a Wretched Hive masquerading as a Shining City, if not just playing the Layered Metropolis disgustingly straight. If the arcology is actually a Shining City, and a sympathetic character hails from it, expect it to look like a Doomed Hometown eventually. Broken arcologies tend to be the breeding ground for all sorts of nasties, too, since they are no longer fit for human habitation, there's a chance at least some of the sustenance systems still work, and there are at least millions of hiding places.

If the arcology has space engines, it's a Generation Ship. Shares blurred lines with the Mega City, which need only be huge, but sometimes an example of one is an example of both, especially the arcoplex variation. Contrast Hub City, which offers everything you need but a place to call home. Citadel Cities that also qualify as arcologies function extremely well under seige conditions, since dwindling supplies are no longer an issue. Compare and contrast with Layered Metropolis, City on the Water, City in a Bottle, Elaborate Underground Base, Skyscraper City, and Domed Hometown. Even though most of the tropes above are sub-tropes of the Mega City, technically the Arcology is not, since one can exist inside a city without actually being one, itself, even though it usually works out that way. Lastly, see Shining City, which is what an arcology is trying to be from an ecological standpoint, whether it succeeds or not.


  • In Dredd, the 2012 film adaptation of Judge Dredd, most of the action takes place in perhaps the best visual representation of a residential arcology in an arcoplex so far. Even the car chase opening through the streets of Mega City One shows multiple levels of automotive arteries all over the city, which is a hallmark of the arcoplex concept.

  • All evidence points towards the Trope Maker being H. G. Wells, as the structures that stand where the cities used to be in his story The Sleeper Awakes are the earliest description of what would eventually be labelled arcologies.
  • Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Oath of Fealty. The arcology of Todos Santos is located just outside Los Angeles and has a somewhat hostile relationship with the city.
  • Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' The California Voodoo Game. The title Dream Park game takes place inside the MIMIC (Meacham Incorporated Mojave Industrial Community), which was built during the 1990's. It was so badly damaged by The Quake that it had to be abandoned. It was later acquired by Dream Park and used as the basis for the Barsoom Project - the terraforming of Mars.
  • Strength Of Stones, by Greg Bear, is set After the End in a depopulated world where mobile arcologies roam the land, looking for their former inhabitants (who are actually all around, living in squalor, but the arcologies don't recognize them anymore).
  • In James Blish's Cities in Flight series, cheap and easy anti-gravity and faster-than-light technology leads to most of Earth's major cities converting themselves to arcologies and setting off for the stars.
  • The 3 km-tall "urban monads" in Robert Silverberg's The World Inside that house 800,000 people each were inspired by Paolo Soleri's earliest elucidations of the concept.
  • In the web novel series Anachronauts, arcologies figure into several key plot points, especially Una's hometown experiences growing up in Arcology #BE12.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton describes futuristic Earth cities that are explicitly referred to as arcologies. Considering the detail and scientific realism of the series, the descriptions of the cities' inner workings is pretty much spot-on.
  • William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912) has an early version of this in The Great Redoubt (more than 7 miles high, holds millions of people) and The Lesser Redoubt (more than a mile high). They're both sealed off from the outside world by necessity and are completely self-sufficient.

Live-Action TV

  • In Paul Kantner's science fiction concept album, Blows Against the Empire, the Generation Ship which is hijacked by a rag-tag band of hippies is an arcology:
    Hydroponic gardens and forests Glistening with lakes in the Jupiter starlight.

  • Tales From The Afternow is a warning from the future about how civilization eventually migrated to the arcologies to escape the toxic wasteland resulting from nuclear war. The arcologies certainly fit the Wretched Hive masqueading as Shining City descriptor.

Tabletop Games
  • Shadowrun offers several examples:
    • The Renraku Arcology, owned by the Renraku Corporation. You have to be an employee to live there, but they'll happily take your money in one of the multiple megamalls located within. Of course, this was before the Deus Est Machina took over, locked everyone inside, and started running grisly experiments on the inhabitants.
    • German megacorporation Prometheus has built a few Arcoblocks in the middle of the contaminated North Sea for unknown purposes.
    • There some floating arcologies scattered across the Pacific.
  • Cthulhu Tech arcologies are all over the place, but most of them aren't described in much detail. They are a necessity, though, since the local Starfish Aliens and the multiple Religion of Evil cults roaming the countryside have essentially made small towns tantamount to suicide. One common feature, however, is that New Earth Government arcologies are highly defensible fortresses.
  • Classic Traveller, Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society issue 15. In the article "Azun", the title planet has a population of 26 billion, which has forced them to put most of the population in arcologies.
  • Warhammer40000's infamous Hive Worlds are covered with thousands of Arcologies.

Video Games

Web Original
  • Underground Crushed Underground follows the story of an underground arcology [[note]] known as a geocity, or a geofront, if you don't like thinking about crappy 90's free hosting websites [[/note]] that is dystopian through and through.

Real Life
  • The Trope Namer is Italian architect Paolo Soleri, a forerunner of the ecological movement and architect of "Arcosanti," the first attempt at a functional, definitive arcology. He created the portmanteau word for the concept behind his eventual goal, and after 40 years, it has had varying degrees of success. By this point, it's a combination tourist attraction, education center, and oddity outside of Phoenix, Arizona. For more information on Soleri, check That Other Wiki for information here.
  • Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright proposed an early version 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.
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