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Arcology

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:
  1. High population density.
  2. Constructed as a single building.
  3. Self-contained in regards to energy, amenities and waste reclamation.

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 skyscraper 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 going 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 function.

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. Depending on who we ask, we may or may not currently have the technology required to make an arcology work in the real world. What is certain is that we don't yet have the political pressure and economy of scale to build one with any reasonable payoff; with current population densities, such a project would be Awesome, but Impractical, thus a fully functional arcology in fiction often 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. In some Cyber Punk settings, an arcology may be a Shining City in the middle of a Wretched Hive, the archology's walls forming a neat divide for Urban Segregation.

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, Underground City, 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.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Film 
  • 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.

    The buildings are almost completely self-sufficient. They have self-defense systems that allow them to withstand a nuclear blast, only the people inside can choose whether any communications can go inside or out, and the main villain of the movie has been operating in secrecy to the outside world for so long that she has every last citizen who lives in the complex under her thumb. As Judge Dredd progresses his way up to the top, he ends up traveling through shops, factories, people's homes, and classrooms. Even the distance from the top floor to ground level becomes a minor plot point.

    Literature 
  • 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 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 1990s. 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 Literature/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. However, many of the arcologies are not a single building, but simply cities which were covered in large, overlaid domes to protect them from the armada storms raging across the surface of the planet. Newer arcologies are described as being much more monolithic.
  • 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.
  • Arcologies are mentioned as part of the backdrop in Neuromancer although the story doesn't involve any of them.
    • Semi-sequel Count Zero partially takes place in an arcology that was originally intended to be self-sufficient, with wind-farms on the roof and greenhouses and fish farms on the upper levels. But apparently things changed and it became a Wretched Hive like the rest of the Boston-Atlanta Sprawl.
  • Earth has several arcologies in the Star Carrier series, all of which were "grown" by using nanites on decommissioned landfills and the like. They usually take the form of Star Scrapers.
  • Metatropolis has arcologies, but most of the stories focus on other types of future city. A couple stories feature a group of eco-nuts who convert a semi-abandoned skyscraper in Detroit into a self-sufficient residence with farms and solar power.
  • One story in Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga goes into some detail about the creation of modular arcoplexes designed to be expanded upon as the population grew, and link to one another if two should meet. Despite their creator's protests that "huge tracts of unspoiled land" would be set aside, after hundreds or thousands of years, eventually all of them met, creating a City Planet (and utterly destroying the natural environment, of course, making it a major subversion of this trope).

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 

    Radio 
  • 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. After which the Seattle government seized it and turned it into a public housing project for 150,000 residents on welfare.
    • German megacorporation Prometheus has built a few Arcoblocks in the middle of the contaminated North Sea for unknown purposes.
    • There are 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.
    • The GURPS version's "Planetary Survey" series includes the amusement park world Kamsii, which houses its 61 million employees in arcologies so they don't disturb the carefully cultivated and sanitized "wilderness".
  • Warhammer 40,000's infamous Hive Worlds are covered with thousands of Arcologies, though they're not actually self-sufficient: They rely on importing food from nearby agri-worlds. Some sources state that only the upper classes on such worlds can afford real food from off-world, the masses live off of nutrient paste and Soylens Viridians.
  • Iron Crown Enterprise's Cyberspace cyberpunk RPG. One possible origin for characters was being raised in an arcology. The average population of an arcology is less than 10,000, and they tend to be oriented toward environmentalism.

    Video Games 
  • Half of Cairo is now an arcology in the Deus Ex: Invisible War universe. The class warfare taking place between the arcology and the old city is a significant plot point.
  • In EV Nova, the Auroran capital planets each have at least one large arcology where their inhabitants live, due largely to the planet itself being too polluted to support life anymore. In fact, almost all Auroran colonies have at least one arcology, even the ones that presumably aren't quite so polluted (as they export food grown outside the arcologies).
  • The floating city of Cocoon from Final Fantasy XIII is a textbook arcology, albeit one created and run by physical gods instead of designed by scientific techniques.
  • SimCity 2000 features 4 different types of arcologies, each one invented 50 years after the last. From the left: Forest, Launch, Plymouth, and Darco.
    • The Plymouth Arco, invented in 2000, is 'Solid as a Rock', or so claims Plymouth Arcologies, Inc. It is known that they have stood through several earthquakes, notably in the NeoRepublic of Mexico and the Taiwan CoProsperity Region. Plymouth Arcologies are designed primarily to support heavy industries, as visually demonstrated by the sewage and pollution literally oozing down the grungy outer walls of it's obelisk-like design. Combined with the giant television screen built at the base, this arcology and its 55,000 industrious citizens has a distinct 80's dystopian cyberpunk theme going for it.
    • Going in the complete opposite direction from it's predecessor, the Forest Arcology, invented in 2050, is a series of habitat rings built on top of each other, and is named for its attractive forest setting on the top level. Throughout the structure, citizens utilize recycling, operate ecologically sound industries, and maintain a rich verbal heritage that replaces television and radio. Unfortunately, the youth of Forest Arcos are bored silly and roam out into your city where they stare mindlessly at soap operas and sports programs displayed in the electronics department at local malls. Most of its 30,000 residents are tree-hugging hippies.
    • Invented in 2100 is the Darco - slang for "De-Urbanized Arcological Construct". Originally designed by the twisted genius of Dante McCallavre, the artist/architect proclaimed it a reactionary response to the rigid, archetypal Arcologies of his day. No one really knows what this means, and many engineers are frankly baffled at how the thing stays standing. Inside, the ill-lit corridors twist into odd, meandering corkscrews that mysteriously turn back on themselves. Non-Euclidean would be the best way to describe it. There are rumors that a strange sub-species of man inhabits the air ducts. The Darco can attract up to 45,000 brave souls.
    • "Launch" Arcologies, invented in 2150, were nicknamed for their resemblance to modern orbital launchers. The resemblance is not entirely coincidental, as sophisticated methods of biological support were necessary to oxygenate and feed the thousands of inhabitants. While never tested, the manufacturers claim the occupants could stay self-contained for up to two decades. The sides of the Arcology are equipped with vernier jets to stabilize the structure during storms and earthquakes. A small nuclear facility independently powers the building; spare energy is stored by electrolyzing water into two tanks for oxygen and hydrogen. The "Launch Arco" holds 65,000 inhabitants, but are also the most expensive to build. Build 450 of these in your city and the Exodus will occur. All of the launch arcos will explode, demolishing themselves while a message appears on your screen: "Your launch arcos have departed into space to find new worlds. You have been compensated for the construction." Note: building 450 of them will take up roughly 90% of your entire city's area, meaning you will need to destroy most of what you've already built just to compensate them. This is, however, considered the unofficial "Win Condition" in a technically unwinnable, unending game.
    • Simcity 2013 has the option to build an arcology in a Great Works site, an area in the inter-city region. It's monumentally expensive, both in cash and raw resources (the idea is that all the region's cities will help in its construction), and differs from the classic arcology by requiring external sources of power and water, but offers large bonuses to business and tourism in the region. It also completely eliminates the need for residential zones which makes sense as EVERYONE is living inside the Arcology.
    • The Expansion Pack, Cities of Tomorrow, features MegaTowers, smaller arcologies that can be built within the city itself. Highly modular, they can be made self-sufficient with regard to power, water, sewage treatment etc. depending on how they are developed. They can also be connected to one another via skybridges. The expansion also features a Launch Arcology in a Call Back to 2000.
  • A possible industrial tech in Sword of the Stars that increases the population capacity of colonies.
  • The Vaults of the Fallout series were designed to be underground arcologies capable of sustaining a population through the lingering effects of the nuke fight that was WWIII. And that was their only function.
  • Baron Wittard is set in an abandoned mega-building that was supposed to be this trope, but was never completed.

    Web Original 
  • Underground Crushed Underground follows the story of an underground arcology note  that is dystopian through and through.
  • Orion's Arm has arcologies on several planets and high-population orbitals. Originally on Old Earth they were exclusive communities for the wealthy and powerful, then nanotech meant they were cut off from a lot of the countryside's resources, then the Nanodisaster happened and the arcos were well defended and many survived into the exodus. On many worlds they're the only inhabitable places.

    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 Phoenix. 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 United States actually has.
  • There were several visionary concepts (as in, not meant to be built) for Japanese arcologies, such as Sky City 1000, the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid, and the X-Seed 4000, which would have been taller than Mt. Fuji.
  • The Shanghai Tower is probably as close as we're going to get in the near future. It's a single structure designed to contain apartments, offices, parks, shops, and its own life-support system (a countermeasure against Shanghai smog, primarily). It won't be completely self-sufficient, but as far as the residents are concerned it will be pretty close.

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