The cities are getting bigger. Some, like Tokyo or Mexico City, exceed ten million people. And they are still growing. In 2050 it is estimated that the planet could reach nine billion inhabitants.
Urban sprawl replaces natural environments by new metropolitan areas. Against this, the “arcology” advocates for huge skyscrapers occupying the smallest possible territory and minimize its impact on the environment. The term, an acronym for “architecture for ecology,” was coined by Paolo Soleri in 1970 in his book “Arcology: City in the Image of Man”.
This Italian architect argues that the current urban development based on land occupation or the family houses are unsustainable for a planet whose inhabitants are growing but not its resources. The “arcological” buildings would not be human hives, according to Soleri, but self-sufficient cities capable of generating their own power, control the quality of air and water, waste management, food production and offer different areas of activity in the most efficient way possible .
In this model, the car and its polluting effect disappear, as their inhabitants move around the building itself through lifts and other internal components of displacement. The much more efficient and less polluting public spaces are prioritized over private. Its inhabitants enjoy natural areas around it, instead of concrete slums.
Arcosanti, the arcology in the real world
In 1970, Soleri launched the project Arcosanti . Its aim is to build, in the desert of Arizona (USA), a prototype based on the principles of arcology to accommodate 5,000 people. Arcosanti occupies ten hectares, surrounded by a natural area of about 1,640 hectares, and includes productive, educational and cultural spaces.
Along with his late wife, Soleri created the Cosanti Foundation for implementation of the project Arcosanti Arcology Network, a program of international affiliation to spread their values and create new designs.
The idea attracted thousands of volunteers, who by 1976 had built most of the structures you can see today. However, the project has slowed down and continues unfinished. Now they work and live in it about 80 people, who receive visits from 50,000 tourists every year.
Arcology futuristic designs
Soleri’s work has followed up some architects today. The NOAH (New Orleans Arcology Habitat) project aims to build a pyramid-shaped building with a capacity for 40,000 people in the US city. Arcology is present in its conception: it would have room for homes and public places such as hotels, casinos, shopping centers or schools, it would generate their own power and would recycle the water current. The company Tangram3ds, which involved one of its designers, Kevin Schopfer, offers a spectacular portfolio of pictures and videos.
Schopfer is also the author of other conceptions of arcological architecture. To his hometown he has designed the BoA (Boston Arcology), a sustainable rectangular megastructure for the port area. With a capacity of 15,000 people, it will have amenities, gardens and public spaces and would have solar and wind energy. For the island of Haiti, Schopfer has designed the Harvest City, a floating city three kilometers in diameter to accommodate 30,000 people. In two-thirds of its space an agricultural area would be located and the rest, light industry equipment. It would have all kinds of services to their residents and be able to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.
Francis Frick, from the Department of Agriculture of the University of Hong Kong, proposes using the principles of arcology for urban development in southern China, one of the poorest countries in ecological solutions to meet their high economic growth.
Cities that could be “arcological”
Arcology has not come out of nowhere, but is based on architectural elements that defend the integrated design in harmony with nature. In fact, Soleri studied in the studio of one of the pioneers of this idea, the American Frank Lloyd Wright, who proposed in 1932 the “Broadacre City”, a project of a metropolis centered on principles of environmental quality.
Therefore, today one can find projects that fit with some of its principles, such as the eco-cities of Dongtan in China and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates.
The Dongtan project proposes an eco-city on Chongming, the third-largest island in the mouth of the Yangtze River. The idea is that its people have everything they need to not resort to the nearby Shanghai. Renewable energy will make the city self-sufficient, which will recycle up to 80% of its waste and promote environmentally friendly public transport. The “Masdar City” (“source” in Arabic) aims to be a sustainable urban complex of about 6.5 square kilometers capable of housing 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses, mostly related to renewable energies.