The following is an article written by Jared Lain. It can be found in this format at strolen.com and on the CthulhuTech forums. It covers the core details of arcological theory and application, and is written from a real world perspective with an emphasis on using the concept in speculative fiction.
The History of the Arcology
The idea of the arcology was coined in the 1950s by a man named Paolo Soleri and was a forrunner of the ecological movement. His idea was buildings and communities that were built into and along enviromental lines, rather than clearing, flattening, and creating massive urban sprawls that turned wilderness into concrete. Science fiction has latched onto the idea and it has since evolved into the idea of megastructures supporting super high population densities, sometimes as giant parasites on the land, and others as self sufficient utopias. From a structural standpoint, the idea of the arcology is sound. By using a large building, less ground is covered by human habitation and more people can live comfortably (or less so) in a small footprint. With centralized water and waste reclamation, the structure is more environmentally friendly that a city sprawling over several square miles.
There are three main things that currently vex the arcological community. The first is power. Vertical structures require a large amount of electricity to operate, with some of the highest power usage coming from pumping water hundreds or thousands of feet into the air to support residences dozens or hundreds of floors above the ground. The current line of thought has the arcology being covered with solar panels and the roof studded with windmills. The future, the playground of science fiction offers plenty of quick fixes. Safe nuclear reactors, fusion reactors, dimensional manipulation engines, and other exotic and widely replicated power sources can be built into the structure to solve the power problem. The second problem is food, farming isn't easy inside a building. There are proposed 'Green Towers' that would be agro-arcologies, or vertical farms. These farms suffer from the same power problem, but with sci-fi handwavium reactors the second problem is fixed. Most arcologies would be supported by two or three much smaller vertical farms. There would also be a shift towards fast growing foodstuffs and a lessened demand, or increased cost for luxury food items like most kinds of meat, or tree fruits. The final problem is the one most frequently hand waved, the sheer difficulty of building megastructures. As buildings get taller, they get heavier. This necessitates bigger and bigger supports, meaning that with modern materials, a megastructure is going to be stunningly heavy, and contain massive amounts of concrete. A far cry from the artist's imagery of soaring towers of crystal and silver.
An Arcology is much like a space ship, most of its systems are closed, recirculated, recycled, monitored, filtered, and otherwise man managed. Regardless of shape, size, population, or principle occupation, there are vital services that have to run day and night otherwise the entire system fails.
Power: People stay calm as long as the lights stay on, but when the power goes out, civilization as we know it isn't far behind. Power is principally generated and distributed through the arcology by a series of power sub stations. This modular system prevents building wide blackouts, allows for regions to be taken offline for maintenance, and for other such grid concerns. It also has the advantage of being able to maintain control of a populace by blacking out their block in times of civic disobedience. This decentralized power system also makes the system less vulnerable to sabotage. The most heavily monitored and guarded part of an arco besides the command and control center is the central power plant. This plant can colloquially be referred to as the Boiler Room, the Furnace, the Devil's Basement, or other equally colorful names. Members of Power Crews are often seen as being a step above all other maintenance personel,
Water: Without water, there isn't life. An Arcology collects rainfall as well as accessing local water supplies to meet its needs. Rather than sitting like a giant sponge, soaking up and wasting water, most have enclosed water systems. All water is collected and recycled for use throughout the building. The treatment facilities are likely located in the sub levels of the building, where gravity brings the fouled water. Once purified, it can be reused as basic potable water. Water intended for consumption, versus toilets, showers and sinks, can be given a further step of having minerals and other things added or removed from them. Water crews, often identified by blue jumpsuits are generally considered to be on the bottom of the maintenance totem pole.
Food and Supplies: Food, sundry goods, and other manufactured goods, unless produced internally by the Arcology, have to be brought in from outside. Like malls and department stores, an Arcology has distribution hubs scattered through it. This ranges from basic needs like food and medicine, to less vital needs such as designer clothing, entertainment items and the like. Stores and corporations remain in place, and many of the giant companies maintain private arcologies of their own as headquarters. In this regard, little has changed, though the notion of planned obsolescence is now frowned upon. Waste is a problem and while there is no problem with a company wanting to sell goods and make profits, most things are made with an eye towards longevity. Once the next big thing comes out, the older merchandise is resold, or recycled and generally filters down from the ultra wealthy down to the poor who live in the less savory parts of the arcology.
Waste Disposal and Recclammation: Once something is kicked out of the system for being waste, such as things that cannot be recycled (medical waste, the extruded solid waste from water recclamation, toxic materials) it is sent to Waste Disposal. One on side, Waste Disposal does handle recycling, sending preprocessed goods to either local centers that handle it, or to transports that will carry the material to an arco that does handle it. On the other hand, Waste Disposal also deals with the true elements of waste. These are often handled by incineration, or some other process that renders the material inert.
Health and Human Services: Doctors and medicine are still a common part of arcology life, and each block of an arco is likely to support a hospital center, with a central 'ivory tower' hospital that is referred all of the strange and hard to diagnose problems. Medical recovery, ala ambulances and such are also used, likely on a deck by deck level.
Blocks and Decks
A vertical arcology is collected into decks or floors, that in turn are grouped together and managed as blocks. A block comprises 5 to 10 floors, seperated from the blocks above and below it by a structural 'bulkhead' deck. Rather than being an armor plate, this is a mechanical floor for the power substations, water pumps, and other day to day unseen functions of the arcology. The Bulkhead floor is restricted to maintenance and security personel.
Residential Blocks: These blocks are comprised of decks filled with homes for full time residents. Each home unit typically contains a number of bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, a common entertainment room, and a small amout of storage space. This can increase or decrease depending on the planned income of the residents of the block. Blocks intended for low income housing tend to be much smaller, while luxury accomodations can be quite large. Blocks are typically income sorted by altitude, lower income blocks are closer to the ground, while the rich dwell in the top of the towers of men. While this might seem contrary to safety concerns, most of the upper most block have easy access to the roof where they can be rescued by helicopter, VTOL aircraft, and other airships. Those living in the lower levels are closer to the power plant, the water processing facilities and the like. If a water main bursts in the Blue block, its drinking water, if a water main blows in the red deck, chances are its a human waste pipe from a higher deck. The center or middle deck of a residential block is a "Main Street" deck and houses no residences, but the local businesses such as food sevices, shopping, and the like. If there are parks and recreation facilities (common in Yellow and Green blocks, non existant in red blocks) this is where they will be found.
Industrial Blocks: These blocks are composed of the factories, processing centers, and distribution centers that make the move the finished goods that society demands. Industrial automation is common, but manual labor to an extent has been phased back in, as people need jobs to occupy their hands and minds. Automated factories can expect higher taxes while businesses that use human labor can expect tax breaks and incentives. most daily goods are assembled and made locally, such as soap, processed foods, and garments and such. Higher end finished goods, such as vehicles, electronics, designer name brands and luxury goods can be made, but many are made more for export to other arcologies, or are part of a supply chain between arcos. One arco might make motors for VTOLs, while another handles the final assembly. But for the most part, these blocks are not involved in heavy industry.
Commercial Blocks: These blocks are generally only found in affluent arcos, and in the middle to top layers of those. Residences are rare, and any industry present is light or presentation (made to order) based. Like megamalls these are the centers of trade and commerce. Trade, banking, finance, and the like also occur in commercial blocks. As can be expected, a commercial block is likely the social and cultural center of an arcology and it is this block that is most likely to be known by residents of other arcologies. If the 'Main Street' deck of the residential block is main street, then this block is Wall Street and 5th Avenue rolled together.
Other Sectors: There are several other large portions of an arcology that are not classified with the block system. The lowest region of the arcology is the engineering section, where the power plant and water facilities are. These have been addressed above, but the engineering block is a totally off limits part of the arco, protected by locked doors and in some places, by security personel. Someone with access to the core power and water supplies can do a huge amount of damage. It is also easy to become disoriented and lost in the labyrinthine bowels of these giant buildings. Storage tanks, catwalks, pipes hang overhead, and team underfoot like massive iron snakes. Invariably, someone does get lost, and search parties are send out similar to someone getting lost in the forest. This is also the 'port' of the arcology where goods are moved in and out of the building, along with raw materials and waste as pressures demand. The command and control center is also located in a discrete location inside the Arcology. Due to security reasons, the location of the CIC is seldom common knowledge. Many arcologies have observation lounges and decks around the top of the building, many also have air traffic control centers also on the top of the building. It is a common misconception that the ATC center is also the CIC. The CIC is typically near the middle of the arcology, near the core axis of the building. This is done partially to protect the literal brain of the building, but also to ensure that the operating crew is looking inward, at the job at hand, and not sitting looking out the windows.
Utopia or Crapsack?
Mood and theme are important to keep in mind when building arcologies, there are two fairly popular modes of portrayal, the utopia and the crapsack tower. In the Utopian Tower, the arcology is an ivory tower where the menial concerns of labor and worries of environmental shortages and suffering are non-existant. Everything is good, all the furniture is polished, and there is decorate wood trim on the control panel for the elevator lifts. The other end is the Crapsack Tower, where there are too many people piled into a single megabuilding, where power flickers, there is a Soylent Green index, and pretty much everything is horrible. These both work, to an extent.
The Utopian Tower either becomes idyllic to the point of breaking the veil of disbelief. No one is that happy wearing silver pants living in a giant gold cage. It is also common in the Utopian setting for the Arcology to function as a microcosm of society, showing that under the happy exterior there is something either festering underneith or there is something horrible in the basement. The Utopian society is slowly eroding because of foolosh tampering with genetics, or the thought and mood control drugs are running out and the end of Utopia is imminent. The elders are usually corrupt, and it is revealed to be a golden prison. Another common theme with Utopia is that the Arcology is shining silver blight on the world around it. The residents are unaware, or dont care about the pipes that are draining the oceans to feed their showers, or the strip mining and invasive farming practices used to keep their plates full. These usually show a massive difference in wealth and quality of life between those who live in the tower, and those who live in the big scary world, picking through their trash piles.
The Crapsack Tower becomes pessimistic and grim to the point of absurdity. If the resources are that scarce, and the iron handed overlords were that cruel, there would be a revolt, a rebellion, systematic organized terrorists fighting to undermine them, or even bring the whole building coming down in a cloud of debris. Still, the Crapsack tower was a useful function as a microcosm of the great world, with big things like resources and maintaining the environment removed from a global scale and moved down to something that most people can understand.
The truth of the arcology would more likely come somewhere between the two. For that I have come up with a basic grading system, scored from A to F.
The Arcological Caste System
The A Grade Arcology is the literal ivory tower, and there aren't reasonably going to be any arcos that are A rated across the entire structure. Rather, a portion of an arco can be, and would represent the 'good part' of town, or the wealthy part of town. The housing units are massive, and they have easy access to means of egress. Typical A grade zones have immediate access to the roof heliport, or a side mounted helipad for evacuation in case of emergency. Full length windows, unrestricted water and power use are also key features. Industrial a grades are comparable to computer factories, while a grade commercial districts are the same as the streets that give their names to prosperity and couture, such as 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive.
The B Grade Arcology is upper middle class, with comfortable housing units, upscale industry, and high quality shopping, but it doesnt extend into the stratospheric level like the a grade.
The C Grade Arcology is typical middle class, the units are just about what people need for terms of space, and the industrial zones are typical manufacturing, assembly, and cubicle farming jobs. Commercial zones are similar to the level of a local mall in a large, but not major city.
The D Grade Arcology is lower middle class, with cramped units, water and things like climate control have limits of use (but not to the point of hoarding, a normal family will have what they need, but within arco determined reason. Industrial zones are low end manufacturing, and facility maintenance, and a good section of the service industry. Commercial zones are small town strip malls and factory outlets.
The F Grade Arcology is Poverty level. Units are built to accommodate people like inmates, water and electricity are rationed and things like long hot baths are luxuries. Industry is crminal level, prostitution and other bare minimum wage jobs. Many occupants of an F-grade arco are likely on some sort of state subsidy. Commercial zones are minimal, and comparative to a Dollar Store next to a convience store next to a McFat Burger.
Very few arcologies are going to be graded one grade across the entire structure, rather there would be a 3 grade spread across a building, if the top deck is A Grade, the base level is going to be C Grade at the worst. To prevent a homogenous economic culture, an arco has a minimum of 2 grade levels, and a maximum of 4. If it is a white tower, the infectious human waste doesnt live inside the great ivory tower, and if the arco is a hive of scum and villainy, there aren't gold and platinum level shopping and industrial options.
The arcology discussed thusfar has been a multi use non denominational population center. There are certain factors that can lead to the creation of dedicated arcologies, such as the presence of a large existing population structure, but a need for more industrial operations, or non-localizable industry needing more room for residential zones. In an Arco-Plex, or arcology complex, multiple arcologies might each have their own specific purpose, and the group work together, much like a living organism.
The Residential Arcology:
The Residential arco has for it's main purpose housing people. There are still commercial and light industrial/economic activities within the building, but these are essential or convenience based services. A residential arco is likely associated with agriculture, mining, or some other economic activity that cannot be put into a building. The first arcologies are likely to be Residential models built in major cities to alleviate urban congestion and resource waste and strain on the grid. People would migrate in and out of the arco via mass transit systems.
The Industrial Arcology:
Raw materials enter the base of the industrial arco, and the building processes, manufactures, sub-assembles, assembles, packages, and exports finished goods the other side. Many major factories, producing things like cars and other durable goods can spread across hundreds of square acres, sometimes even miles. Stacked inside a building, they take up less valuable room, and can share resources and reduce the amount of wasted transit moving part a to part b sub assembly to part c process, etc. Like the Japanese concept of Zaibatsu, almost everything needed by the industrial arco is likely to be manufactured or supplied by a sub plant inside the building. Pure industrial arcos are going to be rare, and owned by megacorporations and manufacture things like weapons, combat vehicles, automobiles, aircraft, and other things build by huge factories. These industrial arcos are likely to also be involved with building the basic machinery for other arcology industrial zones. Within a nation, an Industrial arco is likely to be a major economic powerhouse, or potential liability.
The Commercial Arcology:
The commercial arcology is comparative to a major theme park or amusement park, mated with a stack of super malls, on top of a few dozen big box stores. Visiting a commercial arcology is basically visiting a city sized mall, for lack of a better expression. Like the other types of arcos, the commercial arco has levels dedicated to residences and industry, but again these are basic functions or convenience based. A pure commercial arcology is going to tend towards the upper end of the grade scale, and if the industrial arco is an economic heart of a region, a commercial arco is a cultural heart of a region. Commercial arcologies can only exist in high density population areas and exist typically as part of an arco-plex, or core of a commerce or trade based city, such as a major port.
The Green Tower is the most common sort of dedicated arcology. The population is minimal, as the main purpose of the green tower is to produce food for a sibling standard arco. Most agro-arcos, also known as green towers, agro-arks, food factories, etc are not full sized full fledged megastructures. The decks are large and largely open for the maximization of growing space to produce as much raw food material as possible. This is generally limited to fast growing, heavy yield basic crops, such as certain grains, pulses and legumes. There is also a limited scale of animal farming, producing meat and genuine protein for middle and upper income households. Most dairy can reasonably be replaced by soy and plant derived synthetics (margarine anyone?) And with the production of mycoproteins (quorn) the demand for chicken is reduced. Things like fruit from trees and red meat are luxury items, but the synthetic stuff is cheap and abundant.
Thus far, the only arcological form discussed is the megastructure tower, there are certainly several other forms that the environmentally friendly super structure can form. These alternate forms generally follow the same basic purposes and grades as the bsic arcos mentioned above, but with major cosmetic differences.
The Aquatic Arcology:
70% of the world's surface is water, and there is nothing in the speculative fiction future that prevents us from building out cities underwater. The Seacology is built underwater, likely more loosely connected than a major building, and compartmentalized for safety purposes. On a construction level, they will be easier to build that kilometer tall buildings. The seacology also has the advantages of aquaculture, raising seaweed and kelp for food production as well as maintaining large fisheries and fish farming operations. With large populations already near the water, residential arcos can be built in the water as land space runs out.
The Subterranean Arcology:
Also called a geocity or geofront (I prefer the second, as the first reminds me too much of primitive yahoo websites from the 90s) are built entirely underground. Like the seacology they are easier to build than megabuildings, but require a huge amount of excavation. The geofront is a natural bunker, and many can expect to have industrial and mining as their core operation, secondary to population centers. In areas where the local geology prevents the building of huge buildings, it can be much easier and more feasible to build down, rather than up. Geofronts typically range closer to the bottom of the grade spectrum, and with the lack of natural light they are much more likely to be cramped and claustrophobic even if they are larger than a contemporary standard arcology.
The Raft City:
Build of interlocking floating panels, the Raft City literally floats on the surface of the ocean, the individual sections rising and falling a tiny amount with each wave. Each block could be the relative size of a medium ocean liner, linked together with other blocks until it is several hundred square acres, to even square miles in size. Raft Cities are likely to be associated with a pre-existing coastal city, and will be built as an extension of that city, such as New Hong Kong or New Taiwan, or Mar Angeles.
This concludes Lain's article. Any further analysis may be added below, but please leave the above section unaltered. Permission has been granted by the author, so please be respectful of his work.