Arcology: cutaways of the future city-hives that never were

Aha! That building appears in “Chappie,” as the headquarters of a criminal gang.

I hate what arcologies have become in SF: A giant vertical security-suburb to keep the ethnic / underclass filth out (Oath of Fealty) or a giant vertical slum/ghetto (Judge Dredd) to keep the underclass filth in.

It would be interesting to see if a working arcology that is actually rooted in landscape and nature could be made to work . . . but after reading Brand’s How Buldings Learn and his follow-up essays on how cities learn, I think we’re far better off with discrete structures that can be torn down or repurposed along with changes in population, lifestyles, and technology.


You say that like it’s a BAD thing. I moved to Seattle for just that reason.

“Last day, Capricorn 15s. Year of the City: 2274. Carousel begins.”


That’s the obvious problem with arcologies: they’re inflexible. It’s the problem with utopian thinking in general.

On the other hand, at least Soleri’s arcologies were an effort to imagine a future that’s qualitatively better than the present.


First introduced to Soleri in the 1970 tv doc series Here Come The Seventies (I would love to see these docs again). The 10 yr old me was like “this is real and it’s happening. I absolutely believe it.” Innocence fades, but Soleri’s core vision of city-building is still influential. Now if developer$ and amateur city councils would go 1/10th of the way to making cities aesthetically richer we would live in a very different world.

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Spent a couple nights there last December. Very interesting concept. I especially enjoyed the model of the proposed arcology tower located in the desert near Mojave, California. Why you’d build something like that in the middle of the stinkin’ desert is beyond me, though. Then again, there’s Palm Springs…

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I was luck enough to get to spend a week at Arcosanti in 2007 and 2010, both times with the Different Skies electronic music festival. Around 20 musicians showed up on Sunday, lived and worked at Arcosanti for a week, composing the music we’d play on the following Saturday - and jamming like mad during the evenings.

Part of the success of these events was the inspiration from Arcosanti itself. The experience of living in the place, even for a short time, is fascinating. Sunset watching from the top of the Ceramics Apse, messing with the acoustics in the Vaults, wandering around the complexities surrounding the Music Center…and not falling off the Big F’ing Cliff.

I don’t think I’d want to live there forever, but doing so for a time was magnificent.

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The images are nifty, but trying to read the text descriptions made me want to punch the writer in the nose.

The novel, Oath of Fealty, is set in what is supposed to be a arcology, set squarely in Los Angeles. I loved it as a dweeby SF fan, but in retrospect it is . . . reactionary bilge. The kind of Future City that paranoid upper class Angelinos might want to live in.


Yeah, I liked it when I was young, but a few years later rereading it made me realize I hadn’t really paid much attention to anything but the technology. I actually am kind of conservative and found it pretty much drivel.

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Now I’m afraid to re-read it. Of course, Niven is incredibly good when you’re 14 and not so much later. Pournelle? Well, he’s just a jerk.


I still like Niven and Pournelle, but OOF is just a rush job and not worth your time.

You just don’t want an arcology that learns like the ones in Shadowrun.

What Modernism taught us is that attempting to reinvent culture through pure reason is absolute folly. It might appeal to the engineer hiding inside all of us, you know the one with no idea about cognitive biases, but actual experience demonstrates over and over that it just does not work.

Daniel Dennet has now identified what is at work in the creation of culture, in the present case the functional basis of cities, as Non-Darwinian Evolution. Humans can design things without understanding what is being designed and what is solved and do a better job than a genius designer. There is a saying in the study of evolution, “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” Dennet proposes that we are entering a new historical epoch he calls “The Era of Post-Intelligent Design.” Where we will learn to capture the techniques heretofore done intuitively and be able to intentionally allow for non-darwinian evolution to contribute to solutions that will surpass what we have been able to accomplish up to now. Crowd sourcing is the tip of the iceberg in this field (for example.) Computerization is also a key component, rapid prototyping on the virtual level we have already seen as genetic algorithms.

Non-Darwinian Evolution means evolution, recursive generational development guided in part by a sort of survival of the fittest, but with an intelligent observer or observers steering the process toward the desired result. Even when you don’t know where you are going you recognize that something good happens and can focus or isolate that result and continue the process. Oddly, anyone that has studied the making of contemporary art will recognize that this is the creative process that is encouraged by the best teachers without their ever mentioning or knowing about evolution or the philosophy underpinning it. The future may well be guided by the arts rather than science, or the long hoped for re-joining of the fields may just happen after all.

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The main problem is that they assume a static culture, and a pretty homogenous one at that. There is little thought given to the idea that societies change.

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Isn’t that just artificial selection?

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The only thing I would disagree with in your statement is the word “just.”

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The coolest thing about Arcologies, that most people don’t realise. They are large enough that each one could be socio-politically aligned to it’s own individual population. You could live in the socio-political cultural alignment you prefer, each to their own. Geek town becomes a reality as does Nerdsville. It would be interesting and creatively enlightening. Some success and some failures.