In 1970, I came across an article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, West, introducing the visionary architectural work of Paolo Soleri. This architect spoke about the City in ecological terms, noting that the physical form of a city has ecological consequences. He spoke of an urban ecology inherent to cities.
For Soleri, the city is an instrument -- a sublimely noble instrument of culture. It is within the city that we develop and nurture our humanity. Good cities, by design or accident, allow us to participate in cultural life, usually because it is physically convenient. "Human scale" is an attribute of such cities.
Unfortunately, what we normally choose to create are cities scaled to the automobile. The flat, sprawling cities with which we satisfy ourselves usually inhibit more than enhance cultural and social activity. Social opportunity is severely limited by distance and separation of function. Adding to the problem is the fact that we do not have equal ability to overcome those distances. Many of our cities are humanly useless without a mechanical ability to traverse significant distances at relatively high speed. Our cities are out of scale.
According to Soleri, they are also the wrong shape. Using a biological analogy, flatness as a characteristic is great for organisms like plants, which benefit from extensive surface area. But complex social creatures like ourselves require more than can be delivered by a flat system. We need complexity, and our cities should accommodate that. Greater complexity can be delivered by a compact urban form that is volumetric: a city in three dimensions; a city that is accessible vertically and diagonally as well as horizontally. Soleri calls such structures Arcology. The word explicitly refers to architecture, on the scale of whole cities, that is ecologically coherent, time and energy efficient, and accommodating in a cultural sense -- because culture is the measure of humanity. In short, arcology would be a good thing in a small package.
In order to test his thesis of arcology, Soleri set out to build a prototype in central Arizona, called Arcosanti. In 1971, I attended a construction, err, educational workshop to help build the fledgling structures. I decided to major in How To Build Arcologies. Little did I know. I returned for a second workshop in 1975 and stayed until late 1980, working as Supervisor of the Metal Shop, Librarian, Tour Guide, and Publisher of a monthy newsletter that ran for thirty-three issues. I returned again in 1996 as Workshop Coordinator. Through the years, I have been involved with work there on various levels, including management. Altogether, I have spent about seven years in residence at Arcosanti, and additional time "off-campus", ruminating on what is necessary to create arcology.
Various terms have been used to describe three-dimensionally compact cities. Generically, they fall into the class of buildings called megastructures, a term coined by Fumihiko Maki of the Metabolists. Paolo Soleri has argued that such structures would be characterized more accurately as "mini-structures", since conventional urban forms are often "mega" by comparison. Soleri himself coined the term arcology to emphasize the role that the city plays in ecological and evolutionary terms. Like Soleri, Peter Broberg draws on the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin in justifying compact cities but uses the term regional urbanism. Unlike Soleri, Broberg does not propose a pronounced verticality to the urban form. Hyper-building is a term used more recently by some, including Soleri, to indicate very tall structures. N.J. Habraken speaks of support structures. I find his term most plainly descriptive even though I do not completely embrace Habraken's emphasis on using modular or prefabricated housing within the structure. Prefabrication is useful and economical and may eventually be utilized in private additions by those who so desire but, strictly speaking, reliance on prefabricated assemblies is not part of my working definition.
Throughout, I use the terms "arcology" and "support structure" interchangeably, although with different emphasis. Arcology speaks to the cultural life of the city; it considers the structure a "place" that people call home; it is the structure filled with life; it is a living city. Support structure (or, more simply, structure) refers to the edifice itself with all its facilities; it speaks to the structure's physical capacity to function as a support for urban life. I wholeheartedly endorse the term arcology but it does not easily communicate the simple essence of what is physically required. In fact, the word, arcology, is often misused by those who do not understand the full complement of its meaning.
It is normal to think that such structures must be "completely built" before being habitable. Don't we expect as much? It may not be obvious that a completed structure need not contain completed dwellings. The plan must simply allow for growth and change -- from the very start! Calling the form a support structure emphasizes its ability to support growth and modification passively.
There is abundant evidence that the costs we incur with the use of the automobile are unacceptable. There is the tax and toll on human life, the environmental impact of sprawl and pollution, and the monstrous costs of production, maintenance and support of the automobile-system as a means of common mobility.
This study does not exist to argue that the omnipresence of the automobile is harmful. Given the overwhelming evidence of direct and associated ills, we consider the automobile tried and judged. We find its use within our cities (and our total dependence on it for physical mobility) to be dangerous, expensive, physically and psychologically unhealthy, environmentally mindless, socially destructive, and a perilous Achilles Heel of the national body politic when we are obliged to war in support of our vehicles.
So we ask, "How can we free ourselves of the yoke of the automobile?"
First off, we have to realize that cars are like cockroaches -- we'll never completely get rid of them. Every major city is designed for them. In many places, it's impossible to get by without them. How do we reconfigure our cities? At what cost? For whom? In what time frame? With how much sacrifice, dislocation, economic upset, political tugs-of-war? And to what end? What kind of city do we desire as we tear apart our city? How do we want to end up? What kind of city should we have in the first place?
This study is about creating the kind of city we should have in the first place. It is about building in human scale with human-scaled distances. It is about creating a city rich with cultural opportunity. It is about creating a city we can use -- all of us: adults, children, the elderly and the handicapped -- no one need be denied access to urban life because of distance, danger or economic disadvantage. It is about creating a physical condition that guarantees one's economic independence (if one so desires). It is about being able to sit and talk with neighbors underneath a starry night sky. It is about living a fuller, richer life than we now enjoy while using less energy and substantially easing the ecological footprint of contemporary urban life. This study is specifically about creating arcology.
An arcology is a compact city that is volumetric in form, as opposed to normal cities that are flat and spread out. An arcology accommodates life by extending reach in three dimensions instead of confining it to two. It replaces the technology of the automobile with the technology of elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks. People are able to live, shop, work, participate in events because places are nearby and conveniently located, not because greater distances can be traversed at greater speed.
This does not propose to eliminate the automobile in society. With qualification, the automobile is a useful technology of transport -- although not well suited in any sustainable sense as a substitute for walking. This is not a call to eliminate the automobile, just a conclusion that we should leave it outside the city.
Moreover, this is not a call to abandon our current cities. We need to repair our cities. We have them, for better or worse, and we are responsible for the way they harbor us. If we try hard enough, over time we can transform them. But given the magnitude and the urgency of global and domestic problems exacerbated by the way we live, one cannot be sure we have the luxury of time to argue out how to reconfigure existing cities and trust it is enough. This country is bleeding energy and it needs a real, serious solution. It is much easier and quicker to create new infrastructure, making it physically correct and energy efficient in the first place. Besides, our cities need relief, why not house new population in a new city? It's an old idea.
Happily, it is significant to realize that the "The Problem" can, in fact, be rectified on the scale of whole cities. If approached on the scale of individual choice to change (lifestyle, for instance) then the future will pretty much resemble the present -- people will not choose an alternative that does not exist. If approached on the scale of neighborhoods or communities (scattered carfree zones) then we may expect some respite but are still left with sprawling inequities and a wannabe success. When we approach a solution on the scale of whole cities, we are able to address side issues of alienation, equity, community...because these issues are linked to our ability to connect as human beings.
Speaking metaphorically, it is practically impossible to get the sounds of a piano out of a rebuilt harpsichord. If we are going to build an instrument -- and the city is, indeed, a great instrument -- we should make it a good one, from the ground up.
The following is a lay study of elements involved in creating arcological cities.
We seem to lose a measure of our humanity if we cannot look up at a clear night sky and ponder the depths of the universe. Let us hold that an ability to view a clear night sky be a non-negotiable design element as we build our cities.
If we eliminated sources of particulate matter from our cities and managed to live with less gross illumination, our skies would be darker. And if one is above the light, the view is even better.
First, arcologies would require less illumination. The amount of gross wattage necessary to illuminate a compact city is less than the amount required for a dispersed city. Instead of lighting miles of wide pavement with high-wattage overheads, we may light smaller footpaths with inexpensive low-wattage bulbs. Lights from nearby businesses serve double purpose by contributing to general illumination. Less light is needed in total, reducing both ambient light pollution and a proportional amount of source pollution (generated in the creation of the electricity in the first place).
Second, with a volumetric form, it is easily possible to have gazing-places which are above or away from all light of the city. Situating them on the outside surfaces of the structure (especially on the upper levels) is obvious. Light emanating from the interior of the city can be baffled appropriately so as not to interfere with a common back-yard view of the night sky -- assuming we place the back yards upon a convoluted periphery. A more challenging task is to create interior spaces that have a starry view. Such a challenge is similar to, but greater than, getting natural light into the interiors of the structure.
And third, the sky surrounding the city, the arcology, would have significantly less airborne pollutant because a great source that pollution would be parked. The function of transport and materials handling within an arcology could be served easily by electric motor technology, which operates cleaner and more efficiently than the internal combustion engines we currently employ.
Bringing natural light into the interiors of large arcological structures is critically important. Even if the amount of direct sunlight is limited, places must, at the very least, be able to have views of bright sunlit places. For instance, even if the location is a quarter mile within the structure, an arcology would need to provide at least some view out. That view should include the horizon.
Mirrors and reflective surfaces might be used to direct light into the structure if care is taken not to blind folks along the way. Light tubes and glass block offer good potential. Fiber optic technology, though expensive, has tremendous artistic potential. Full-spectrum lamps could fill in as needed. Ultimately, the impression should be that one is not exactly inside a structure.
Facilities which normally function under artificial light anyway (department stores, manufacturing, movie theaters) may be located naturally in those places where there is less light to begin with, in the lower interiors of the structure.
A city must exist in open air. Any conception of a support structure as an enclosed building is wrongheaded. The notion that mechanical systems should move air on the scale of a city is ridiculous. The structure must facilitate natural air circulation.
If wind is allowed to pass through the structure then it's especially important to consider the aerodynamics of the form. Fluid motion studies may be done to reduce the potential for wind eddies within the structure. Good design means that the structure facilitates cleaning; it should not facilitate the deposition of dust and debris. Those places that tend to collect windblown earth should be made gardens. In especially dusty locations, one might create special catchment areas to filter airborne dust. Hill parks and tree-lined entrances to the interior of the structure could function in this respect.
Be wary of venturi effects which increase air velocity (and noise) unless used specifically to intensify and harvest wind energy. Be wary also of spatial configurations which promote spiral updrafts -- an aggravating factor in firestorms.
The structure will collect an amount of rain equal to that of a similar-size hill. Designers would do well to direct the water inward, into cisterns or on to a stream system. There's no sense in keeping the joy of rain from those within the structure. Waterfalls would be particularly appreciated.
Water reserves should be maintained on upper levels of the structure to be used for fire fighting or for release into streams within the structure for recreational and aesthetic use. The cost of pumping/recirculating water to the top of the city structure for such use might seem an unnecessary expense, but consider that our habitat should be naturally delightful (justifying the pumping for psychological reasons), and that the expense is recovered in the overall electrical efficiency of the compact urban form.
Fire -- especially petrochemical fire -- must be prevented at any cost. Obviously, it is necessary to specify fireproof materials in construction throughout. Materials which resist fire but emit toxic gasses when they do burn should probably be avoided. Ceramics, brick, stone, concrete, adobe are appropriate materials for surstructures (sur=above, over); reinforced or tensioned concrete and steel are the primary players for the superstructure. Concrete is generally fireproof, but spalls (fractures off) when exposed to fire. Steel is weakened and deformed in fire. Taking a tip from a science experiment in which water can be boiled in a paper cup using flame, one might think it efficacious to fill structural steel supports with liquid or gel to dissipate heat, thus prolonging structural integrity. Or, reinforced concrete columns might be loosely encased in stainless steel and then the cavity between filled with water. The water makes the concrete hard and makes the steel resistant to fire, protecting the concrete.
Fluid dynamic simulations of fire conditions should be modeled to avoid dangerous updraft conditions. Prevailing winds can exacerbate fire conditions, though specific analysis is site-dependent.
Since we are dealing with a volumetric city, we should not expect to transport fire fighting equipment from place to place as we do in flat cities. It makes complete sense to install basic fire fighting equipment throughout the structure for immediate use. Besides common extinguishers and fire hoses, water cannons could be mounted in strategic locations that would allow large amounts of water to be directed immediately as needed. Since mischief could wreak considerable damage, operation of such water guns would have to be restricted to those with "keys". If residents carried machine readable identification cards, then water cannons might be activated, for instance, by any two "permissions." Such identification would insure responsible use. Naturally, one would train the citizenry in using available fire fighting equipment -- an all-citizens Volunteer Fire Department. Such a group would augment city professionals and be able to react immediately in case of emergency.
The ultimate acceptance of support structures depends on how safe they are, even if that point of safety must be pushed to the limit of evacuation. Evacuation deals with getting people away from a place in a state of emergency. How can a support structure physically facilitate evacuation?
Let us distinguish between area evacuation and general evacuation. The former requires people to leave an area for an adjacent area; the latter requires people to abandon the superstructure completely.
Evacuation requires redundant systems. Besides a variety of fully integrated mechanical systems, other, less orthodox, possibilities might be explored.
Slides, for instance. People like slides for fun. That alone is enough to justify adapting the structure to contain slide parks. Used for recreation, slides become trusted and familiar. In an emergency situation, slides would have to deal with high-volume use, and allow for rapid dispersal at the bottom to avoid untoward results. "Lifeboats" or slide vehicles could be supplied from special storage within the structure much like a magazine feeds shells to readiness. Such emergency vehicles or pods might make evacuation more controllable and accommodating for those not familiar with the ride.
Whether the structure needs to be rigid or resilient, it must withstand two types of earth movement. The first is the sudden, jolting, buffeting of earthquake; the second is the slow but irresistible force of gradual earth movement. The latter is only significant because of the great size of the foundations and the long life span of the structure. Horizontally dispersed cities easily accommodate earth movement but a support structure would have to bear it as a unit. In this respect, geologic conditions may mitigate against very large structures. Structures that are articulated with shock absorbers, or that are not fixed directly to the ground (slip foundation -- much like a desk is able to move upon the floor) might be practical. A huge, jointed structure would probably creak and groan.
All moving parts (including people) will have a tendency to impart frequencies of oscillation to the structure. Particularly intolerable in a support structure would be the propagation of mechanical vibration and its obnoxious brother, impact sound. Mechanical and acoustical isolation and dampening must be mandated for equipment (e.g., fans, pumps, transport mechanisms). Fortunately, it is a relatively straightforward task to dampen or eliminate mechanical vibration.
Impact sound may or may not be problematic. The use of earth as an intermediary could help mitigate this type of noise. If the superstructure were made to hold earth, then surstructures could be built upon it with foundations in that earth. Having earth beds as ground for surstructures incidentally assures that folks will be comfortable knowing how to make additions to their property.
Noise is unwanted sound. It is an insidious form of pollution which has deleterious effects on our nervous systems. Especially in arcologies, where people live closer together, it is important to anticipate ways to facilitate a peaceful quietude.
There are two types of noise: that which generated by people or by natural causes, and that which is generated by machines and electronics. Human noise must be dealt with by social agreement; it is a cultural thing. Some people, particularly adolescents, are more excitable than others. Dealing with mechanical or electronic noise is comparatively easier.
Generally, we can reduce noise in several ways: by producing less of it in the first place; by deadening it; by masking it with other, less intrusive sound; or, in some applications, by negating it through feedback electronics.
Arcologies can reduce the gross amount of noise produced. Anyone with their ears open understands that most urban noise is produced by our automobiles. Since we will not be needing these within our city, we may have solved the problem already. Eliminating the sound of engines, tires, even the car's whistling passage, will do more than we realize to bring a quiet peacefulness to our home. Automobile noise may be traded, albeit not at par, for a hustle and bustle of human life at the front door, and a natural quietude at the back door.
Noise is also created mechanically. Extra care (and expense) must be taken to specify that machines are quiet. Buying higher precision usually means getting a longer and more dependable operating life, driving down real cost.
Soft surfaces absorb sound; hard surfaces reflect sound; elipsoidal surfaces focus sound. In a Kaiser Hospital lobby near Los Angeles, for example, the architect created ellipsoidal dimples in the ceiling that were eight to ten feet in diameter and a foot or two deep. They magnified the sound of speech underneath them. Result? People spoke in softer voices because they could hear each other better. The amount of sound that was propagated horizontally was less than would be otherwise.
Vegetation, trees, groundcover should be used liberally to deaden sound.
Don't cram things in too closely. The aim of arcology is cultural facilitation, not mere density, and certainly not crowding. Spaces must be created that allow separation as well as closeness. Sound intensity decreases proportionally to the square of the distance.
Break up sound troughs. Straight lines help to carry sound. Houses, streets, neighborhoods and districts should be angled to help break up sound energy, besides making for a more visually appealing environment.
Running and falling water generates white noise (a mixed propagation of sound waves across an extended frequency range). Pine trees also generate white noise in the breeze.
Noisy processes can be isolated. Manufacturing can be either confined to special areas of the city or can be accommodated in special buildings in neighborhoods. Likewise, activities which typically generate noise (e.g., sports events) should also have facilities specially considered either to absorb noise or direct it outwards, away from the structure.
Noise can be reduced by agreement. It is conceivable that a city, district, or neighborhood might want to zone a section "acoustic only", completely disallowing electronically amplified sound (via speakers) outside one's domicile.
One should expect the sounds of construction. Construction tools are not made to be quiet, they're made to get the job done. Portable acoustical baffles can muffle sounds of power tools.
Electromagnetic hums (such as from television sets, fluorescent fixtures, motors, neon lights) may or may not not have unhealthful effects, particularly in metal reinforced structures. Will a collective electromagnetic aura exacerbate the so-called sick building syndrome?
In the spirit of playfulness and experimentation, let me suggest that the residents of our as-yet imaginary city create a special occasion called "The Moment of Silence" (or some such thing). At a given time (inaugurating the annual onset of Carnival?), have folks observe a moment of silence, during which time, shut off all electricity to the city (except for emergency facilities). All motors, all fluorescent light fixtures, all the humming contraptions of modern life quieted each year for one brief moment. Ahh, true quiet...
Arcologies must be adaptable to modification. This need not include modification of the superstructure. The superstructure is the base; what is added upon the base -- the surstructures -- are modifiable.
If the structure is to effectively house a city, it must be accommodating -- in every sense. Above all, it must accommodate change: space today for two, tomorrow for three, and then room for grandmere; a theater today and a cafe tomorrow; a garden to a fire pit, and so forth.
The whole idea of arcology is to nurture a rich cultural environment. This is done by interweaving work, play, learning, socializing, and other activities. If the physical plan does not allow for these life activities to overlap casually then they won't. If something cannot happen then it will not happen. The physical plan must allow those activities that are all relatively healthful or harmless to coexist as desired. Those activities or processes that are relatively hazardous or otherwise unhealthy (e.g., industry) should be isolated -- but not without some common life around them; it is generally undesirable to have isolated areas devoid of "eyes on the street", as Jacobs has so well put it.
Civic, institutional and cultural facilities would naturally be distributed throughout the structure and would provide social counterpoint within neighborhoods. It is entirely likely that civic facilities would serve multi-purpose need at all hours of the day, encouraging adjacent business (late night cafes, for instance). The availability of such gathering places creates an aliveness in the city, and when the city is alive, it is a marvelous thing.
Co-generation addresses the potential for utilizing one or more inputs of waste energy toward a particular end, e.g., industrial processes pool heat generated individually to take advantage of a greater combined temperature differential to...generate electricity?...heat water?...create a significant updraft...?
Since a support structure allows functions to be aligned along multiple axes (horizontally, vertically, diagonally), there is significant opportunity to harness the economics of this type of co-use by juxtaposing appropriate commercial or industrial processes. Besides reclaiming heat, there may be other combinations of processes which, when grouped together in appropriate symbiosis, would yield a residual potential. The field of Industrial Ecology examines these potentials by using principles of biology, ecology and systems thinking to maximize business performance by all measures -- economic, social and environmental.
In arcology, we must consider that the entire community cohabits one "house". It would not do to allow that house to become infested with vermin. How do we deal with the roaches (or mice, ants, slugs, scorpions ) that we may anticipate finding at home in the structure?
The problems that actually surface over time will determine a range of appropriate measures. Animals and insects are frequently used to control pests but all must contribute to a balanced ecology of the habitat. I leave the discussion of biological control to the naturalists and ecologists.
Simple cleanliness obviously plays a significant role. Keeping the little buggers from getting a foothold in the first place saves effort and anguish later on. Still, vigilance is required and there is no accounting for some people apparently content to live with insects.
High-decibel ultrasonic sound is a deterrent to some vermin. Ultrasonic noise generators might be installed to sweep the structure from top to bottom, periodically driving hoards of crazed cockroaches into channels and into traps. Sure. Possible problems: extended use might factor for resistant (deaf) insects; hearing ranges of various species (insects, birds, cats) must be known to avoid over-targeting.
American cities rely on the marketplace to supply food. The connection is borne of economics, not politics. The modern city is not normally concerned politically with how to feed itself.
Nevertheless, cities should have a more direct connection with their source of food. The more a city is able to feed itself, the more self-reliant it becomes. Although it is completely unrealistic to suggest that existing cities should feed themselves, it is not unrealistic to suggest that new cities consider integrating agriculture into their plan. This is especially realistic with arcology.
Sometimes open field agriculture is not practical because of land or climatic conditions. In such cases, urban planners may set aside land area for eventual reclamation and development for agriculture (as practiced in the Netherlands), or create urban greenhouse systems as Soleri has suggested.
At the very least, there should be provision for composting kitchen refuse on a household or neighborhood scale. Besides being an ecologically responsible activity, composting reduces the burden on waste disposal systems and helps maintain local gardens within the structure. It is entirely possible for arcologies to export topsoil as part of its economic base.
It's important that an arcology be sited well within a wide boundary of open, natural landscape. It's important that people have an unspoiled view of the world around their city. Urban density is more tolerable if the individual can walk to heights of the city and look out upon miles of natural terrain. The more that vistas surrounding the city include development -- especially auto-centric development -- he less salubrious they are. One finds more repose in natural patterns than in gridded development. Life within an arcology will be especially vibrant and active. Urban intensity within must be counterbalanced by natural landscape beyond, though this is not to say that vistas of agriculture or of areas developed for recreation would not be suitable.
This element is critical: it is absolutely necessary to bring earth up into the structure. Without incorporating gardens, parks and trees, a megastructure will not be a coherent ecosystem. People want to live surrounded by natural vegetation.
Creating a support structure primarily as an open landscape, upon which we may build as we please, allows us to reduce initial construction costs dramatically. Such an approach also reserves options for future modification and development. This approach places substantial emphasis upon the contributions by the Landscape Architect-team, whose responsibility is to replicate a natural ground environment within the three-dimensional context of the structure.
Microclimates created within the structure will make for a rich urban ecology and substantial biodiversity.
People and freight will arrive in cars and trucks; busses will serve the city; there may or may not be rail service (it may be economical to construct rail service to the site at the start). Since the city itself cannot and will not accommodate vehicles, they must be parked away from the main structure. Parking structures will have to be differentiated to serve different purposes (visitor parking, long term storage, shipping and receiving).
Parking structures should be located a considerable distance from the main structure for three reasons. First, we are making the effort to create an environment which removes the automobile from our lives; let's not stumble before the finish line by parking them at our feet.
Second, creating a parking "event" infuses arrival with the psychological element of "approach". It is important that we approach a place and not just arrive. We need to get out of the car, stretch our legs and look around, pause to consider new surroundings, and enter the city as people for thousands of years have entered cities: on foot. A slow, pedestrian approach offers us time to reflect on where we are and what we're doing here -- metaphorically speaking. Speaking non-metaphorically, a protracted approach allows visitors to become acquainted with appropriate announcements, etiquette, or laws of the land, as need be. Wide footpaths should be augmented with both slow-speed and rapid-assist mechanical transport for those who are physically impaired. Moving sidewalks, light rail, even electric carts are several alternatives that may be available, as long as the route is kept primarily pedestrian. Line the approach with trees, flowers, benches, fountains (both drinking- and aesthetic), restroom facilities. Arcology is about making places for people to stop, relax and be sociable. The approach to the city should reflect a slow, unhurried attitude.
Third, parking structures should be located at a distance from the main structure for reasons of security. We don't want to provide convenience for car bombs and other machinations of deranged minds.
A final note about parking structures: make them useful for something besides just parking cars. As hill-shaped buildings, they can be used as hills for numerous events, for instance, bicycling, skateboarding, snow sports (weather permitting), picnics, a water park. If a classic amphitheater were incorporated, it would help get people out into the countryside. Not all the best views are from the city out; views toward the grand structure will be equally impressive.
Since the city rises above the ground, all goods coming and going must pass through ground-level facilities. This operation must efficiently direct mail, food, building materials, chemicals, medical supplies in short, everything. It makes sense to know what's coming in and going out, especially when it comes to hazardous materials. Few people realize the extent of a city's "normal" consumption of flammables, acids, solvents/VOCs, pesticides/herbicides, photographic chemistry, etc.
At the very least, engineers want to keep a running account of how much load is on the structure. Materials in and out need to be weighed, at the very least.
Even pedestrian cities must have mechanical transport systems for moving goods (groceries, building materials, furniture, appliances) besides people. Such systems must be as efficient and convenient as autos and trucks are in flat cities. There must be a variety of means to move heavy or bulky things around the city for quick and efficient delivery.
We may separate materials handling systems into three categories: track, non-track, and articulated.
1) Track. Included in this category is rail of any kind (monorail, narrow gauge, "toy" trains), cable car, elevators, escalators, roller track, pneumatic tube, chutes/slides. Electrically supplied buses are a hybrid example. Pure track systems are easily automated and can be relatively easy to maintain. Unfortunately, failure of a part usually affects the system.
2) Non-track. The automobile is a non-track system -- it goes wherever you want. Such a system is usually time efficient. Other non-track examples are the shopping cart and its progressively larger kin found in building supply stores. Fork lifts, golf carts, horse and wagon are more examples of non-track systems. Non-track types can run out of control more ways than track types. To its advantage, failure in one unit has little effect on the overall system. There is clearly an open field for the development of a non-track, personal materials cart/system (for baggage, not necessarily for riding) that is designed specifically for a pedestrian population in "hill" country.
3) Articulated. A "Cherry Picker" (mechanical arm) and cranes of different types are good examples of articulated systems. Overhead cranes are a variation on the track system.
Numerous mature, reliable systems exist to move people and materials in a 3-D environment. Even the auto companies may adapt to the market, since they are in the business of moving people anyway.
Historically, urban designers have considered form as it relates to defense and protection. We may do the same with support structures.
How can we configure a structure to stand in passive defense against hostile action? What can be done physically, structurally, to protect a resident population from harm? Most importantly, how is this achieved without dividing, partitioning or otherwise segregating the resident population?
Consideration of physical fortification to withstand military or paramilitary force is beyond the scope of this study, except to say that the deliberate creation of major strategic positions within a support structure can work for both sides and is not endorsed since it can alter the scale of defense.
Unfortunately, we have terrorism to consider. At the very least, there must be security gates and scanners at ground entrance to the city. Given the precarious nature of the modern world, I doubt there will be much resistance to the idea of security checkpoints to scan everyone and everything entering the structure -- though a well mannered society might dispense with such inconveniences.
Engineering structural redundancy would allow the building to withstand a range of potent shocks or blows. Still, the best protection is to minimize the ability to deliver the blow in the first place. All vehicles should be physically prevented from approaching the structure. Transfer of goods and materials must take place in shipping and receiving centers away from the structure. These centers should be considered ports of entry and must be secure.
Since sewage systems would likely be tied closely to local agriculture, there is the potential for poisons or biological agents to be introduced through the plumbing system. Assuming that the city need not concern itself with the intentions of its residents, a separate plumbing system for public use would be able to isolate events of this type. In practice, effluents may be managed as a combined lot or separated if necessary. There may be research potentials for monitoring foreign effluent separate from domestic effluent.
Keeping strangers away from one's back door is a significant design consideration. This problem can be solved topologically by dividing the structure into separate concourses -- one public, one residential -- which intertwine throughout the structure but never connect directly. Separating (or should I say, connecting) the two zones are the basic residences, acting as a semi-permeable membrane along the length of the connection. The front door of the residence/shop opens onto the public concourse; the back door opens onto the residential concourse. Without invitation (or force) "foreigners" would never gain access to the back yards and private parks of the residential half of the city. Handled adroitly, the visiting public might not even be aware that a division existed, satisfied with its own public parks and facilities. Even if residential areas were in public view, non-residents might not realize there was no way to get there.
Both concourses should have their separate parks, playgrounds, and other public areas. The residential concourse should be contiguous, allowing one to walk to any other residence without crossing the public concourse. If the residential concourse is gated to disallow access to other residents, then the designer has set up conditions for social segregation, antithetical to a whole, healthy community. The public concourse need not be contiguous. Both concourses should be multi-linear, in other words, multiple paths leading in different directions.
During a seminar with Soleri some years ago, I asked his opinion of creating an arcology which could be used passively, in case there should be a failure of electricity. This would mean creating spaces which are lit naturally, using escalators which become simple stairs, providing for alternative means to pump water (by engaging wind driven mechanisms if need be), and so on. He answered that electricity is here to stay and that any consideration of doing without it was nonsensical. I agreed that a society would not willingly abandon the benefits of electricity, but there was no accounting for system failure. He dismissed the idea that an arcology should be prepared to function without electricity.
I remain unconvinced that a support structure does not need to be able to function without electricity. Masterful architecture facilitates. There is no good reason for people to inhabit a structure that is not as usable without electricity as normal cities. Beyond an obvious need for back-up generators, the structure should be designed to passively provide light, ventilation and access to all areas.
According to Soleri, arcology is a complex plumbing system. We should ensure that it is a good one. Utility runs must be easily accessible and modifiable. This doesn't mean they have to be in full view. Plumbing, especially, needs to be configured in efficient branching patterns.
For the sake of economy, utilities can be stubbed into the basic residential units. Owners may furnish the money required for choice of fixtures and final hookup.
Besides plumbing for fresh water, there are several effluents which should be piped separately: greywater, sewage and industrial effluent.
1) Greywater. Greywater is produced by non-septic domestic consumption (e.g., bathing, food preparation). Greywater effluent is eminently reusable for vegetation. It can be easily routed into earth beds within and throughout the structure. If greywater is to be reclaimed from commercial source generators then a more centralized, technological solution is indicated and should be operable from the start.
2) Sewage. For practical acceptance in the United States, a water-borne system is anticipated, although dry compost systems (for instance) should be permitted to individual households as requested. People who would purchase self-composting systems are the kind of people who literally and figuratively turn the earth. These people are important in society. There should be open consideration of alternative technologies as they develop.
A rationale for separating domestic and public sewage is presented elsewhere and may or may not be at issue.
3) Industrial effluent. Major industrial processes are likely to be grouped at ground level, perhaps even at a distance from the main structure. Industrial effluents must be treated differently from sewage and differently even from each other. If residential units are permitted to use industrial chemicals (e.g., hobby photography) then special provision must be made to collect and reprocess spent chemistry. It must not be allowed to contaminate common sewage. The problem here is keeping everyone honest about where they dump the waste. The real world is rife with deceit and obfuscation surrounding the handling and disposition of hazardous materials. All chemicals should be tracked as they enter the city.
Whole cities normally do not just happen, even if communities the size of small cities do. Historically, a new and separate settlement might be created for political or military purpose, or because a group simply decided to live apart from current neighbors. Cities develop at sites of natural resource or opportunity (e.g., fertile land, geological shelter, trade routes, timber, ore). A city must provide opportunity or it will not flourish; it must be a resource and a refuge for its inhabitants. If there is to be any real consideration of creating arcologies, there first must be economic incentives for doing so, aside from the philosophical and ecological reasons for creating such structures.
Especially for initial structures of this kind -- which will exist as veritable wonders of the world -- tourism will be a major economic component. It is reasonable to anticipate significant cash flow from tourism, at least until such structures become commonplace.
Since we have decided to create urban form as we please then we may as well create a physical basis for economic equity. We do this by providing every household with a place to do business. By providing retail space along with a developable plot as the property "purchased" for residency and citizenship, we may ensure a common basis for economic security. The scenario is cheap, easy and simple:
A new owner buys a plot which consists of raw space and an area that may be developed. That raw space -- perhaps on the order of twelve hundred square feet -- may be used for either residential or commercial purposes, or both, as desired. Initially, the new owner would likely occupy the space as a residence while undertaking to extend, and possibly separate, additional housing upon his or her "land". Depending on the actual topologistics of the structure, the developable space can exist behind, above, or below the provided multi-purpose space. There is little sense in allowing non-contiguous development. In other words, one's "shop" is on one's property, not across town from it. This scenario provides a basic shell for a residence and an opportunity to fish in the economic stream, or not, as the household desires. Thus a physical basis for economic independence is secured, whether, when, or not, a household chooses to take advantage of the opportunity.
The scenario does not assure economic success, it merely allows everyone to get started with the same leg up and provides a baseline safety net for economic survival. If we may assume that a premier structure of this kind would be world famous, then we may expect that the economic stream thus created would be considerable.
It is significant to note that existing cities cannot create this opportunity for its citizens without extraordinary disruption of normal affairs. Fortunately, it doesn't matter. By building new, we can physically organize 3-space into true facility for life and livelihood; we can create what we need from scratch.
Economy means not using more than necessary; recycling manages to return something to a reusable state. There is great economy in not wasting in the first place; there is some remedy in recycling -- by way of an expense -- for having wasted or otherwise spent an object to begin with.
When we produce something, we invest time, energy and resources. There is always some waste produced, dependent on efficiencies of transformation. Sometimes we want our products to last a very long time, sometimes we wish them to die, and sometimes -- woefully often -- we simply do not care what happens to them.
Once an object has outlived its intended usefulness, there are a variety of options available. A common option is to discard the object, writing-off the energy and resources that went into its manufacture, and to forget about it, except for a final eight-cylinder send-off to the local land fill. Alternatively, we could recoup what we can of our investment through recycling.
Many objects outlive their usefulness superficially. Often these items are passed between people as trash-to-treasure. Support structures can physically facilitate this common form of recycling by creating and assigning spaces in each neighborhood as potential Free Stores. Such depots could be located at transport hubs or along materials handling routes. If the locations are not naturally convenient, the facilities will be under-used.
So-called "useless" objects can be dealt with a number of ways. The Highest-and-Best-Use-Principle of recycling suggests a hierarchy of actions:
Historically, the issue of what constitutes an ideal size for a city has been considered since Plato described his Republic. In all cities, the social dynamic varies with population size. As cities grow from small settlements, there are increasing benefits from greater diversity, more options, more opportunity. As cities grow, benefits eventually diminish in relation to increasing problems. The balance point between the two can not be exactly discerned because so much depends on the culture of the people and the uniqueness of their city. Still, historical opinion overwhelmingly agrees that cities approaching and surpassing one hundred thousand population are appreciably less pleasant than cities in the twenty- to fifty thousand range.
Support structures must be designed for a predetermined population range. Actual population capacity is a cybernetic phenomenon. Humanity is relatively compressible, depending on inherent cultural factors. In physical terms, a support structure can theoretically accommodate X number of people and store Y amount of things. Storage capacity acts as a buffering variable since the structure may accommodate people at the expense of things, or vice versa.
A population range is grossly determined by how much expansion of private space is allowed. For instance, let us allow 3.2 people to live in 1200 square feet of space. If one is given 1200 square feet of floor space that is 32 feet high, then one may house about ten people by adding floor space inside. By making additions and improvements, one might be able to increase possible floor space to, say, 7500 square feet, to accommodate about twenty people (if not for a family then perhaps as a hotel). This means that an arcology with an initial (base) population of twenty-five thousand could grow to one hundred and fifty thousand or more. It's likely that not all units would be built to full capacity.
It is entirely possible that arcologies might be viable only within a relatively narrow population range. With too small a population, the costs of providing a megastructure outweigh real benefits; too large a population and the frictional effects of urban compression could outstrip gains.
For example, a city -- that is to say, a village or town -- of five hundred or five thousand population can manage quite well being flat, notwithstanding an increasing ecological footprint. The expense of creating a support structure for so small a population probably would not justify the amount of land area saved, depending on need and environmental conditions. At the level of the village, human scale is easily maintained with conventional living patterns and construction; cultural access is inherently limited and may not be significantly enhanced with a megastructure.
A city of thirty thousand can remain flat and conventional and still be human-scaled and offer a rich cultural milieu. Strictly speaking, a megastructure is not required at this size either, although economic benefits would accrue by way of reduced operating expenses and convenience. Certainly, the quality of life would be uniquely altered -- an essential point in the argument for creating arcologies in the first place. Flat conurbations still face the issue of containing growth and sprawl -- the problem we started with.
As urban populations approach a half-million and more, our psychic and emotional ability to encompass the city diminishes. Human scale disappears with distance and there is increasing isolation and alienation. Especially in these larger contexts, can support structures define physical space such that a sense of community is promoted in spite of gross numbers and increased population density?
There is reason to think they can. Years ago, visiting the aviary at the Los Angeles Zoo, we were informed that a great many more kinds of bird coexisted comfortably there than normally would in the wild. This was because the environment kept birds from seeing and hearing each other. The complex habitat of the aviary provided visual privacy, and the liberal use of falling water masked bird noise. Notwithstanding our differences from birds, it's reasonable to think that creating similar features in support structures could create an equivalent effect, allowing us to overlook certain effects of gross density and to focus our attention on cultivating responsive neighborhoods.
Ultimately, the issue turns to maintaining a sense of human scale within the city. If a person does not feel comfortable with the city as a whole, then that city is simply too big. That holds true for arcologies as well as flat cities. At this point in time, the question of size is hypothetical. Both an optimum operating range and a practical operating range must be determined empirically.
Discussing the concept of arcology and its land requirements with a realtor, I learned that, in Arizona, parcels on the order of five thousand acres and larger are held typically by insurance companies. This seemed somehow auspicious because land, structure and population are all tied to insurance. An entire population, under one roof as it were, could insure itself as a group in its own best interest. An arcology would be inherently safe and healthy: people are completely secure from endangerment by automobiles; they walk as a matter of course, they breathe cleaner air; they have access to geologic scale vistas (psychological health), street crime is reduced because people can casually observe activity; there is even the opportunity of reintroducing the Doctor's House Call since people are located so conveniently. Such a city-group might expect that insurance rates would be considerably less than in normal cities. An insurance corporation would have an easier time keeping folks healthy in an arcology. A common plan could be tailored to the common good at reasonable price. In short, there exists a symbiosis of purpose between people, land and facility -- namely an urban facility, especially one that is safe and salubrious.
It is a temptation to anticipate the creation of businesses out of thin air, as if success could be assured in every case, but that kind of thinking only goes so far. Yet one can easily see advantage for the establishment of certain kinds of enterprise. Buyers' Co-ops, for instance, would be a likely success in an arcology. They could serve small neighborhood outlets for all manner of goods and perishables. There would be a natural return of the Mom and Pop store through the power of bulk purchasing, connected with the fact that everyone has a store front if they want it.
Still, there will need to be involvement by large, conventional commercial concerns: factory outlets, department stores, building and industrial supply, supermarkets, hotels even auto parts and repair. Many of these businesses will want to be in place at the outset.
Especially for those first structures created as whole, ecological cities, it is likely that residents would be predisposed to caring for their home, their neighborhood, their district, their city. One would expect that an ecological city would attract those who are ecologically-minded. Environmental groups and arts organizations might very well choose such a place as their headquarters -- making for a lively and interesting resident population.
State and federal participation in such a venture is possible, although not likely until the viability of such structures are established in time. Without a clear, broad, public realization that arcologies are practical and economical, governmental agencies will be stand-offish. Until that time, such structures will likely be underwritten by private enterprise.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development could undertake to subsidize living units for low income occupancy, although one's status could be affected by a built-in ability to establish private business and create wealth.
In the long run, if such structures establish themselves as desirable in the minds and will of the nation, federal construction funds could be justified constitutionally. The United States Constitution mandates the establishment of post offices and post roads. Conceivably, a support structure could be considered as a huge, complex postal road. Granted, this is a stretch of credibility but, then, all manner of things are justifiable given the will of the people to proceed. Besides, we freely spend tax dollars on the support of highways; why limit subsidies to only transit-related technologies?
Architecture should never be created expediently, it should not present simplistic solutions to the complexities of life. The more that architecture considers these complexities, the more it accommodates life, and the greater and more valuable it is.
A note about my propensity to speak about "structural facility". Structural facility deals with designing architecture to save maintenance work. Architecture structurally facilitates life when it builds in solutions to erstwhile problems: a sloped concrete slab facilitates water drainage and saves the manual work of squeegeeing; built-in ledge access to a high window saves the need to store and carry a long ladder; a convenient water spigot saves having to drag hoses, etc.
Cities are instruments of culture, as they are instruments of commerce. In commerce, we make what we can of ourselves; in culture, we make what we can of our species. The city is home to our humanity; we trust it to shelter our aspirations as much as anything else.