Arcology is a concept of architectural design in which an ideal city is contained within one immense vertical structure, thereby reducing wasteful consumption and preserving the natural surroundings. A community designed with the principles of arcology is itself called an arcology and typically has the following attributes:
- High population density.
- Constructed as a single building.
- Self-contained in regards to energy, amenities and waste reclamation.
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. Energy, however, is generally allowed to enter from the outside in the form of sunlight, wind power and such. 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 gigantic systems of 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 20 Minutes into the Future, Cyberpunk 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 Cyberpunk settings, an arcology may be a Shining City in the middle of a Wretched Hive, the arcology'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 siege 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.
- Shangri-La: Atlas is a superstructure built to shelter the lucky from the fallout of the runaway greenhouse effect, but some can move into it if they win the lottery. But it takes more than just technology to keep the structure from crumbling.
- Lupin III: Earth Building, the HQ of the Douglas Foundation in Farewell to Nostradamus. Standing at 3,000 ft tall with 200 stories, the lower half of the building has all the features of a major city, including roads, a monorail, a 30-story all-purpose sports stadium big enough to host the Olympics, and an indoor snowy hill (in the event of a Winter Olympics).
- Overlord (2012):
- One light novel briefly mentions a European arcology war involving neo-nazis that happened twenty before the series started.
- Another theorises that The Great Tomb of Nazarick with its various bars and shops inside it might have been designed with an arcology in mind.
- In Judge Dredd the various mega-cities are composed of multiple arcologies called city blocks. A city block is a single building that houses tens of thousands of people and has various decks dedicated to things like maintenance, public utilities, public services like education and employment, entertainment, healthcare, law enforcement facilities, etc. Appropriate to the comic book's cynical tone, this living arrangement is a magnet for trouble, with many storylines involving when something in a city block goes wrong and the entire population of it goes crazy. There's even a phenomenon called block wars, in which one city block will beef with another one and it explodes into actual warfare.
- Phillip Sibbering's Ecoriums are a more sustainable take on Warhammer 40,000's Hives. The inhabitants are fed by internal hydroponics farms tended by apartment-bound serfs and fertilized with the ashes of the dead. The population held under strict Population Control with excess children periodically "culled", usually by conscription into the Imperial Guard. The "food ships" mostly import raw carbon, water, and salts to replace the resources removed from the environment by conscription.
- Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Annika-709 is from an arcology that held the entire population of Greater Germany — "the builders had to fill in the North Sea just to provide parking space." Unfortunately it was so depressing the residents voted to commit mass suicide. She's now CEO of the B.O.R.G Megacorporation whose headquarters is a vast cubical structure.
"The B.O.R.G. arcology is five kilometers in three dimensions, with a projected thousand year lifespan in the fourth. It houses over 100,000 staff and their familial subunits in a self-sustained city-building. Everything is provided here: living units, video-schools, movie-piping, babytoriums, relaxeries, communal kitchens, super-markets, love-a-trons, sensurround chambers thus sparing our employees the daily inconvenience of commuting by personal helicopter. Most of them never go outside the arcology, except on their annual two-month leave."
- 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.
- Skyscraper: The titular building, the Pearl, is a gigantic top-of-the-line super-scraper with its own integrated wind turbines to provide power independently, as well as its own residential section complete with park and mall. Will and his family, as part of Sawyer's work as a security consultant for the building, are staying there as the (unofficial) first family living inside, since the building's residential floors aren't officially open yet.
- The Caves of Steel and its sequel The Naked Sun both involve a protagonist who lives in an almost entirely enclosed future version of New York and who is visibly disturbed whenever he's forced to be even just slightly outside it.
- The Sleeper Awakes: All evidence points towards the Trope Maker being H.G. Wells, as the structures that stand where the cities used to be in The Sleeper Awakens are the earliest description of what would eventually be labelled arcologies.
- Larry Niven:
- Oath Of Fealty, co-written with Jerry Pournelle. The arcology of Todos Santos is just outside Los Angeles and has a somewhat hostile relationship with the city. In this case, Todos Santos really is fairly utopian, at least in comparison to Los Angeles, which is depicted as being like, well, Los Angeles.
- The California Voodoo Game, co-written with Steven Barnes. 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, moving whenever they deplete the resources in a particular location. They're devoid of the very humans they were designed to take care of after concluding that ALL humans were harmful and driving them out to survive on the desolate world they were intended to colonize.
- In Cities in Flight, by James Blish, 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.
- Inside: The 3 km-tall "urban monads" that house 800,000 people each were inspired by Paolo Soleri's earliest elucidations of the concept.
- In Anachronauts, a web novel series, 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.
- The Night Land (1912) has an early version of this in the Great Redoubt (more than seven 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.
- Sprawl Trilogy:
- Arcologies are mentioned as part of the backdrop in Neuromancer, although the story doesn't involve any of them.
- 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.
- Star Carrier: Earth has several arcologies, 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.
- The Worthing Saga: One story 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).
- The Stormlight Archive: Urithiru is a legendary 100-story city carved into the side of a mountain, meant to permanently house thousands of the Knights Radiant. It's described as each floor having massive balconies with self-sufficient gardens growing from them. It's worth noting that most of Urithiru's support mechanisms no longer function by the time characters rediscover it, and they are having little success figuring out how to get it working again.
- Hive Mind (2016) is set in a future where humanity apparently lives almost exclusively in arcologies called Hives. The main characters live in Hive England, a hundred-million-person enclosed city that provides almost all its own food, water, power, and other needs. They do trade stuff with other Hives, but not for much — the only trades we see on-page are for extremely advanced medical technology.
- Several of the future "human" species in Last and First Men build arcologies, some of which are extremely large (both tall ... several miles in some cases ... and wide, with the bases of some exceeding twenty miles across). The concentration of population density in the arcologies allows vast swathes of land to be left as pristine wilderness parks, despite a high total population.
- in Andromeda: Of the many space stations present, one of them is actually called the Arcology. True to the idea, it is a hippy's ideal home, being significantly older than most of the featured stations on the show, complete with substandard technology. It also happens to be the largest, and looks quite steampunk.
- Star Trek: Voyager: The Millennium Gate from "11:59" was planned to function quite similar to one. The main problem presented in the episode is that it's construction was putting the city it was being built in almost completely out of business, and Janeway's ancestor found herself in the middle of the pro/anti-Gate debate.
- New Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation is a massive (as in, about the size of a small countrynote ), flying, city-sized palace where all Believers will dwell after Judgement Day. Its citizens being sustained purely by God's glory will solve all the problems of an arcology. Including, presumably, the need to breathe; it's just as tall as it is wide, and inhabitants would be able to look down at the International Space Station ... from a point less than a quarter of the way to the top.
- Shadowrun offers several examples:
- The Renraku Arcology (officially the Self-Contained Industrial Residential Environment), owned by the Renraku Corporation, is around 300 floors of alternating worker housing, manufacturing areas and waste processing and food production facilities, topped with luxury housing for the elite management. You have to be an employee to live there, but they'll happily take your money in one of the multiple megamalls located within. Things changed when, during the Christmas shopping season of 2059, the arcology locked itself down, trapping its inhabitants and thousands of shoppers inside. Nobody on the outside knew what was really going on until the lockdown was lifted sixteen months later: the Arcology Expert Program gained sapience, triggered by a sense of betrayal by its "father", and locked it down so it could find a way to get its code out of the host. Said methods primarily consisted of grotesque medical experiments and vivisection on its prisoners. Its god delusion had it call itself Deus. It created the first otaku this way and used them to smuggle its code out of the arcology before its father used the kill codes to destroy it. The worst estimate of casualties puts the survivors at no more than 1,600. The Seattle government seized it and turned it into a public housing project for 150,000 otherwise homeless and jobless residents: the Arcology Community Housing Enclave. The highest levels still contain feral drones that haven't been destroyed yet and Renraku has reverse-engineered some of Deus's lesser constructs and commercialized them.
- The German megacorporation Proteus has built a few arkoblocks in the middle of the contaminated North Sea for unknown purposes.
- There are some floating arcologies scattered across the Pacific.
- CthulhuTech 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.
- In Transhuman Space arcologies replacing cities is mentioned as one result of cheap cybershell labor. India has a few "bioarks" made from living materials.
- The 15th Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society issue, in the article "Azun", describes the title planet has having 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 arcoloplexes, though they're not actually self-sufficient: They rely on importing food from nearby agri-worlds. Given that they are often perpetually exporting contributions to the eternal Imperial war effort,note they necessarily need raw materials imported to replace the material they lose. 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.
- Cyberspace: 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.
- Beneath a Steel Sky takes place mostly in an arcology. It is interesting to note that the most dangerous and unhealthy levels are those on the top floor; thing gets better as one progresses towards the ground.
- Deus Ex: Invisible War: Half of Cairo is now an arcology. The class warfare taking place between the arcology and the old city is a significant plot point.
- Escape Velocity: 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).
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy VII: Midgar is Shinra Electric Power Company's greatest acheivement: A three-layered, city-sized structure powered by no less than seven Mako reactors (Magitek nuclear power plants) with most of the corporatocracy's population living there. It doesn't even try to look like a nice place to live, being choked with urban blight above and below, with the lower levels not even getting sunshine. Shinra also plans to build an even bigger, better version, Neo-Midgar, once they find the Promised Land ( which doesn't actually exist.)
- Final Fantasy XIII: The floating world of Cocoon is a textbook arcology, albeit one created and run by physical gods instead of designed by scientific techniques.
- SimCity 2000 features four different types of arcologies◊, each one invented fifty years after the last.
- The Plymouth Arco, invented in 2000, is "Solid as a Rock", or so claims Plymouth Arcologies, Inc. It's 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 its obelisk-like design. Combined with the giant television screen built at the base, this arcology and its 55,000 industrious citizens has a distinct 80s dystopian cyberpunk theme going for it.
- Going in the complete opposite direction from its 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 accommodate them. This is, however, considered the unofficial "Win Condition" in a technically unwinnable, unending game.
- SimCity (2013):
- The main game 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.
- SimTower: The end goal of the game is to turn your tower into a completely self-sustaining vertical city, containing living areas, business offices, shopping malls, food production, hospitals, a chapel and everything else needed for its inhabitants to be able to lead their lives entirely within it without ever needing to leave.
- SimCity 2000 features four different types of arcologies◊, each one invented fifty years after the last.
- Sword of the Stars: A possible industrial tech that increases the population capacity of colonies.
- Fallout: The Vaults were designed to be underground arcologies capable of sustaining a population through the lingering effects of the nuke fight that was World War III. 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.
- In Star Ruler 2, megacities are available as a mid-game research item. Megacities are vast metropolises that stretch from the sky to the mantle and can cover entire continents. One of the Big Dumb Objects you can discover is the Arcology upgrade, which permanently increases planetary population capacity by ten billion. In the original game, cities could become mindbogglingly dense jungles of steel as the Lensman Arms Race progressed, resulting in more and more efficient forms of urban planning, causing population density to skyrocket.
- Nexus Clash: The city of Laurentia gives us the Olympic Tower. It was created as one of these, but as the world grew more dystopian and the city grew more technocratic, it got converted into a home base for a sprawling security apparatus and closed off to the general public. The parts that players can get to are still a polished, futuristic contrast to the post-apocalyptic warzone that is the rest of the city.
- Legend of Legaia featured the city of Sol. A city built inside of a single tower with advanced technology including modern electricity when most of the rest of Legaia was at the medieval level.
- In Stellaris: Megacorp the Arcology Project ascension perk allows one to convert planets covered with city districts into City Planets with Arcology districts that house a lot of POPs.
- Mass Effect: It's mentioned that Earth is entering a Golden Age and the wealthier cities are becoming Shining Cities filled with arcologies... the cities in wealthy countries at least. Poorer regions are still overpopulated, polluted slums.
- Resonance of Fate: Bazel is a massive Clock Punk tower housing several cities on top of it. It not only provides food, water,and electricity, but Life Energy to the inhabitants-to the point that if their specific Soul Jar burns out prematurely, they drop dead as a rock. It also works to clean the land of an apocalyptic ammount of pollution.
- Earth 2160: This is how Lunar Corp builds their bases, with a Foundation module supporting living quarters, factories, defenses, resource storage, etc.
- Titan in Destiny 2 has a large several abandoned arcologies floating on the methane sea and one of them is explored by the players. The arcology looks like it was a fairly nice place to live in, with smooth walkways and a large park in the center of the structure, though since it's overrun with the Hive in the present only a fool (or a Guardian) would dare to enter it.
- The tutorial map in Dystopia has you enter an abandoned, underground arcology to retrieve sensitive software. Your CO will remark on some parts like a room having an artificial sky and another case where a tree has grown through solid concrete.
- Ayuri starts with the characters in one.
- Schlock Mercenary: One of the footnotes explains that in the 31st century many cities on Earth are based on arcologies and measured in cubic kilometers instead of just square. Dom Atlantis alone has a population of 4.62 billion and takes up almost half a million km3. Much of that is underwater, accomodating the large population of aquatic races (uplifted cetaceans and octopi mostly).
Narrator: There are other ways to fit 200+ billion people on a planet, but this is one of a very few ways to pull it off while still having it be useful as a planet.
- Fine Structure: The chapter "Crushed Underground" follows a semi-underground arcology built by Mitchell Calrus to shelter the human population after the Hot Wars.
- 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.
- Metamor City is a Layered Metropolis centered around an arcology known as The Citadel, which was expanded from the old Metamor Keep whose Genius Loci still has control over at least part of it, aside from her duties as monarch of the Empire of Metamor.
- 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.
- 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.
- In concept, the various hotels on the Las Vegas strip could be seen to embody the principle. They're mostly self sufficient environments within themselves, and many of them connect together directly with each other so as to discourage people from stepping outside into the 'real world'. It's possible in some cases to travel from hotel to hotel without seeing direct sunlight for hours at a time.note
- The University of Cincinnati is looking into the feasibility of Orville Simpson's design, Victory City.
- The town of Whittier, Alaska can be considered a mini-arcology of sorts. Virtually everybody in this town of about 200 people lives in Begich Towers, a fourteen-story former Army barracks that was turned into an apartment building, one that also houses the police station, the post office, the general store, the laundromat, the hospital, the church, and the municipal offices. The school, located across the street, is connected to Begich Towers by a pedestrian tunnel. Former residents have described the lifestyle as quite unique.