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The ultimate city. Theoretically.
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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:

  1. High population density.
  2. Constructed as a single building.
  3. 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.

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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.

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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. Hive City is the supertrope; all arcologies are hive cities by definition, as they consist of either a single colossal building or several overlaid and interconnected ones, but hive cities do not need to be self-reliant like arcologies are. 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.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 the European Arcology Wars involving neo-nazis that happened twenty before the series started. The clothes of Pandora's Actor, the guardian of Nazarick's treasury, were inspired by their elite guards.
    • 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 that the residents voted to commit mass suicide.
    • In the story's timeframe, Annika is the CEO of the B.O.R.G Megacorporation, whose headquarters is a cubical structure five kilometers to a side, which houses 100,000 staff members and their families in a self-sustaining city-building that contains everything needed for life — living quarters, schools, supermarkets, "babytoriums", "relaxeries", "love-a-trons" and the like. Most people never leave it outside of a yearly vacation leave.

    Film 
  • Dredd: Most of the action takes place in a residential arcology within an arcoplex. 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • Frank Herbert's novel [[Literature/Hellstrom'sHive]] features a society that patterns itself after social insects and has constructed a tunnel city beneath a small valley in Oregon that contains roughly 50,000 individuals. Special farming and recycling techniques are used to help conceal the Hive's existence from the outside world.
  • Larry Niven:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Last and First Men: Several of the future human species 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.
  • Metatropolis has arcologies, but most of the stories focus on other types of future city. A couple stories feature a group of people who convert a semi-abandoned skyscraper in Detroit into a self-sufficient residence with farms and solar power.
  • The Night Land 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, relying on multiple stories of underground farms for food.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy 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.
  • Sprawl Trilogy:
    • Neuromancer: Arcologies are mentioned as part of the backdrop, 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.
  • Strength Of Stones 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.
  • 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.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Urithiru is a legendary hundred-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.
  • 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).

    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 masquerading as Shining City descriptor.

    Religion 
  • Book of Revelation: New Jerusalem is a massive (as in, it would be the seventh largest country in the world by area, between Australia and India) 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Transhuman Space: Arcologies replacing cities is mentioned as one result of cheap cybershell labor. India has a few "bioarks" made from living materials.
  • Traveller:
    • 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".

    Video Games 
  • Baron Wittard is set in an abandoned mega-building that was supposed to be this trope, but was never completed.
  • Destiny 2: Titan has several large abandoned arcologies floating on the methane sea, one of which 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.
  • Dystopia: The tutorial map 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.
  • Earth 2160: This is how Lunar Corp builds their bases, with a Foundation module supporting living quarters, factories, defenses, resource storage, etc.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VII: Midgar is Shinra Electric Power Company's greatest achievement: 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 self-sustaining, entirely enclosed mini-world, albeit one created and run by physical gods instead of designed by scientific techniques.
  • Ghostrunner is set in Dharma Tower, a city in the form of a single massive tower and the last refuge of humanity after an apocalypse.
  • 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.
  • Nexus Clash: The city of Laurentia has the Olympic Tower, which 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.
  • Resonance of Fate: Bazel is a massive Clock Punk tower housing several cities on top of itself. It provides food, water,and electricity, as well as Life Energy, to its inhabitants, who are so dependent on this 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 amount of pollution.
  • SimCity:
    • SimCity 2000 features four different types of arcologies, each one invented fifty years after the last.
    • 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.
  • Star Ruler 2: One of the Big Dumb Objects you can discover is the Arcology upgrade, which permanently increases planetary population capacity by ten billion.
  • Stellaris: 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.
  • Surviving Mars has an arcology building that you can research, but aside from the name and being really tall it doesn't fit the description. It's just another type of housing complex; colonists still need to visit other buildings in the Domed Hometown for their jobs and recreation.

    Web Original 
  • Fine Structure: The chapter "Crushed Underground" follows a semi-underground arcology built by Mitchell Calrus to shelter the human population after the Hot Wars.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Starsnatcher: Most of the early plot takes place in a mountain-sized alien arcology. Its shape resembles a black funnel at the bottom and a cone near the top. Its surface is covered in black plants and solar panels to harvest energy from the red dwarf star in its sky. While it is heavily stratified (with the rich living at the top and the poor near the bottom), even the poor have decent standards of living, thanks to a post-scarcity economy.

    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 forty 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; for more information on the concept itself, look 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. An episode of This American Life had the story of a Samoan teenager whose father abruptly moved the family to Whittier, and she had to cope with the extreme change and try to find things she liked about the new environment.
  • On the Wretched Hive side there used to be Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, a huge apartment complex that got turned into a semisealed, somewhat self-sufficient environment for around fifty thousand people. For a long time it was effectively unpoliced and so an unsafe, unsanitary haven for all sorts of criminal activities; in the eighties the government decided to police it more seriously and its situation improved considerably, though the reputation never waned. It needed interaction with the outside world for acquiring food, but other than that it had everything - shops, maintenance, services and even basic medicine and dentistry. The quality of what it provided was highly questionable, but for many people it was preferable to a life in the slums. Kowloon Walled City no longer exists, the government having had enough in the nineties and deciding to demolish it, but it probably remains the closest the world has ever had to a typical cyberpunk-type arcology.
  • Çatalhöyük could be considered a downplayed, yet also Older Than Dirt example. This was a proto-city that existed in southern Anatolia during the period 7100-5700 BC. The buildings were crammed together with no footpaths or streets between them, with the rooftops effectively serving as streets instead.

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