Arcology - The Idea of Self-Sustaining City with Examples

Every day, we wake up to the food on our table with no consideration as to how or where it came from; every day, we spend several hours stuck in traffic in order to cover the ever-growing distances between our home and other places. The requirement for humans to follow these customs are some aspects that depict the unhealthy consequences of the current urban planning.

Arcology, as the name suggests, is the concept that stresses the amalgamation of architecture with ecology. It is the idea of creating a technologically advanced and energy-efficient city with tall structures that will allow maximum space for the preservation of the ecology present around. 

A guide to creating self sustaining cities through arcology

The term was first coined by Paolo Soleri, who believed that a city should evolve and adapt with time to suit its environment just like how every single organism on this planet does. 

"There is an inherent logic in the structure and nature of organisms that have grown on this planet. Any architecture, any urban design, and any social order that violates that structure and nature is destructive of itself and of us. Any architecture, urban design, or social order that is based upon organic principles is valid and will prove its own validity."

Arcology: The city in the image of man

Although Soleri's ideas were considered as something dystopian by his peers back in the 70s, his projects were actually very much ahead of their time. The very concept of arcology is an effective solution to the rising modern-day problem- overpopulation. And as a result of overpopulation, problems like excessive energy consumption, food scarcity, housing problems, pollution etc are popping up.

Strategies followed in self-sustaining cities:

  1. Emphasis on Height
  2. Re-organization
  3. Community
  4. Ecological aspect
  5. Verticality over horizontal spread

Examples of self-sustaining cities (Arcology):

  1. Arcosanti, Arizona
  2. Mcmurdo Station, Antarctica
  3. Begich Towers, Alaska

1. Emphasis on Height

The very notion of arcology is to reduce space and materials used without compromising on efficiency and standard of living. 

  • Opts for a more vertical development, with the construction of skyscraper-like structures 
  • Occupies the least amount of space possible
  • People living here would have services such as waste management, power and food generation and transport as a part of the 'city’ itself. 

2. Re-organisation

Another important goal of arcology is for cities to go back to a more humane scale. 

  • Vehicles, which expend a high amount of energy will no longer be necessary. 
  • Agricultural and energy production services will be closer or in the complex itself
  • Brings everything that is necessary for the city’s sustenance and functioning much closer and easily accessible to everyone
  • Creates a connection between people and the food and energy they consume.

3. Community

Shared social and economic spaces ensure uniform growth for the entire community. 

  • By ensuring that all kinds of jobs and facilities are placed close to each other, a sense of understanding and appreciation for all occupations happen. 
  • In a space where every person is close and understanding, equality and safety are a given. 

4. Ecological Aspect

In today's world, forests have no worth unless they are cut down. They are used to make way for farmlands and have much more value as plots for sale. Installation of solar panels, employment of electric vehicles, preserving rare plants and animals by locking them up, etc. only solve problems to a certain extent.

  • Arcology deals with and solves problems at the root level
  • Aims for mutual growth and symbiotic relationships with ecology rather than its preservation
  • To enhance the surrounding and not just protect it
  • Conservation happens without compromising on the economy

5. Verticality Over Horizontal Spread

Structures will take a three-dimensional form to combat the present two-dimensional spread in order to greatly reduce the energy spent on transportation. 

  • The buildings will be self-sustainable, employing all or most of its own available resources and energy produced to provide a comfortable living. 
  • Power, climate control, food production, air and water conservation, pollution control, sewage and rainwater treatment, etc. will be a part of the same structure
  • Greatly reduces human impact on natural resources and the ecology. 

The premise of an arcology is to be a small, self-sufficient, green city- a space for a variety of residential, commercial, communal, and agricultural facilities while minimizing the human impact on the environment. Instead of allotting people individual spaces, the entire city itself will be like a big community. 

Although there are no completed real-life projects of Arcology, there have certainly been attempts by several architects. Some of the examples are as follows:

1. Arcosanti, Arizona

Arcosanti, Arizona by Paolo Soleri
Arcosanti, Arizona by Paolo Soleri

Arcosanti is an experimental arcology prototype that has been under construction in Arizona, the USA since 1970, started by Paolo Soleri himself. Its prime purpose is to demonstrate Soleri's personal designs and bring to life his vision of a pedestrian-friendly and energy-efficient urban sprawl.

Spaces in Arcosanti:

  • Amphitheater
  • Residential areas
  • Ceramics and foundry Apse
  • Music center
  • Soleri Office and Drafting unit
  • Labs
  • Guest Houses

Architectural Features of Arcosanti:

  • Earth casting construction methodology where concrete was poured and it took the shape of the contours.
  • Large massing
  • Soil mounded and colored with cement pigments
  • Some buildings built below ground level for natural insulation
  • Interesting wall openings

2. McMurdo station, Antarctica

McMurdo Station, Antarctica
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

McMurdo Station is the United States Antarctic Program for scientific research stations on Antarctica. Since there is an international treaty that the buildings built in Antarctica should have absolutely no damage on the ecology around, the buildings somewhat integrate the concept of arcology. Although the station is not self-sufficient, it is a technologically advanced and relatively self-sufficient community.

Spaces in  McMurdo Station:

  • Stay for around nearly 3000 staff
  • Entertainment spaces including a golf court
  • Chapel and a memorial
  • Observation hill
  • Airfield

Architectural Features of McMurdo Station:

  • Strategically placed windows for views of the landscape outside
  • Overall ratio of window-to-facade across the campus is 11 percent
  • Single-pane glass is used throughout most of the campus
  • Food is stored in a separate building
  • Circulation paths for pedestrians and vehicles often overlap

3. Begich Towers, Alaska

Begich Towers, Alaska
Begich Towers, Alaska

Begich Towers is a small-scale arcology since it hosts nearly the entire population of the city of Whittier, Alaska. Whittier also had a second structure known as the Buckner Building but it was deemed unfit for habitation after the 1969 earthquake.

Spaces in Begich Towers:

  • Residential area
  • Police station
  • Grocery store
  • School
  • Church
  • Post office
  • Laundry service

Architectural Features of Begich Towers:

  • Rectangular plan and a flat roof
  • 14 floors high with 196 apartments
  • School is connected to the residential area by a tunnel

With the pandemic restricting our movement, there’s an increase in the need to find other unconventional methods of sustenance. In Arcology, the entire ecosystem is controlled, reducing the risk of external and other environmental threats. 

We face the rising need for better living spaces that make us feel content and secure. And maybe the system of arcology has paved the way for a newer perspective of what will be in the future.

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Arcology - The Idea of Self-Sustaining City with Examples