Arcology is the synthesis of architecture and ecology in city design. The idea centers upon creating sustainable and self-sufficient structures capable of supporting large and highly dense populations. The concept remains mostly hypothetical and is considered a possible future for the evolution of cities. No full arcologies are complete today. However, principles of arcology are being integrated into modern design.

Development of ArcologyEdit

Human populations have seen unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 1800, only three-percent of the world’s population lived in cities; today, urban populations count for more than half of the world’s population [1]. With this growth came unintended consequences. Cities are responsible for 67% of global energy production and 70% of greenhouse gases, exacerbating problems of energy scarcity and climate change [2]. They also induce problems of social inequity, which can lead to health problems for the poor [3]. According to John Wilmoth, Director of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division, “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda” [4]

The idea of sustainability has gained traction over the past several decades. As cities continue to grow and expand, they are increasingly turning towards green design as a priority in development [5]. According to Paolo Soleri, father of arcology, these changes are only reformation. They do not get to the root of the problem[6].

Instead of reforming cities with green design, Soleri instead suggested for a revolution in city planning. He proposed the idea of arcology as a “lean alternative” to two-dimensional city sprawl and designed several models, such as Arcosanti, Two Suns, Nudging Space, and Lean Linear City [6].

The Concept of ArcologyEdit

Arcology is Paolo Soleri’s vision for cities, as it blends architecture and ecology to refute urban sprawl. The idea centers upon creating cities that are both sustainable and self-sufficient.

Arcology encompasses changes in transportation, agriculture and commerce in order to maximize the effects on sustainability[6]. This concept portrays a system less dependent on the vehicle, integrating residential, office, and recreational spaces, making the city more walkable. The system increases the production of food within the arcology, eliminating transport from farms and creating a more self-reliable system. Arcology also reduces the need for hyper-consumerism, as all needs are met within a highly localized environment.

As an increasingly complex and compact system, arcology aims to be a solution to issues like overpopulation, natural resource depletion, and food scarcity. As Paolo Soleri stated, “Arcology recognizes the necessity of the radical reorganization of the sprawling urban landscape into dense, integrated, three-dimensional cities in order to support the complex activities that sustain human culture. The city is the necessary instrument for the evolution of humankind”[6].

Case StudiesEdit


Arcosanti is an experimental town located in central Arizona, founded by Paolo Soleri in 1970 and continued by the Cosanti Foundation. It is the quintessential example of a modern arcology, established by Soleri as a model for future designs.

Central to Arcosanti are the arcology concepts embedded into the design of the town. The Cosanti Foundation owns 860 acres of land where Arcosanti is located, so there is plenty of land available for food production[7]. Designs for an “energy apron” are also in progress, where a number of greenhouses would be arranged in stair-steps used for food production and collection of solar energy. With most structures designed to incorporate residential, working, and leisure facilities, Arcosanti promotes a full pedestrian-friendly environment. To emphasize sustainability, Arcosanti is built with green materials, and several structures take advantage of the Apse effect, a passive solar energy system. These structures are constructed as quarter-spheres, where the sun can easily penetrate the structure when the sun is at a lower angle in the winter, but can be blocked during summers when the additional heat is unnecessary[8].

Since Arcosanti is an ongoing project, volunteers and interns live on-site for months at a time, taking classes and continuing construction. While Arcosanti hosts around 50,000 tourists annually, the town’s steady population only ranges from 50 to 150 from the volunteers[9]. A master plan is in place that features facilities that can hold a population of 5000, while the Critical Mass plan acts as a short-term goal to hold 10% of the final population.

Arcology in Popular CultureEdit

Most real arcologies have failed due to financial or structural shortcomings. Therefore, arcologies are found primarily in fictional works.[10]


In response to soaring populations and environmental concerns, the fictional story of WALL-E turned to arcologies as the solution[11]. After Earth becomes overwhelmed with trash, humanity flees using cruise liner spaceships. These spaceships were self-sustainable and allowed generations of humans to live aboard.

The World InsideEdit

The World Inside details life where human population reaches 75 billion because of an increased societal emphasis on human reproduction[12]. In response to this overpopulation, humanity is forced to live inside massive city towers called “Urban Monads” so that surrounding land can be used for agriculture to sustain the high human population. This demonstrates the example of a megacity within a single arcology.


In the 2013 sci-fi film Snowpiercer, society embraces an arcology in the remnants of a post-apocalyptic world[13]. After human-induced activity leads to an ice age, nearly all life is exterminated. The only survivors inhabit the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual motion engine that travels around the world. The train functions as an arcology, meeting all human necessities in a highly dense area.

Arcological ThinkingEdit

While there are no full arcologies in existence, many modern designs and technologies incorporate arcology principles, described as arcological thinking. Most cities can introduce aspects of arcological thinking to become more self-sustainable.

Arcological Thinking in ArchitectureEdit

Eco CitiesEdit

Soleri inspired others to radically rethink city planning in ecological terms. His work directly influenced the creation of eco-city pioneer Richard Register’s activist organization, Urban Ecology[14]. Urban Ecology evolved into Ecocity Builders, another nonprofit that “utilizes ecological urban planning, design, ecology, education, advocacy, policy and public participation to build healthier cities — for both people and nature”[15] . Ecocities encompass arcology principles while maintaining the integrity of modern cities. The concept centers upon incorporating sustainable design in cities by increasing walkability and green spaces and reducing the need for fossil fuels. But unlike arcologies, it doesn’t consider the need for cities to be self-sufficient.

Urban AgricultureEdit

Urban agriculture is being explored as population increases and moves toward urban centers. Vertical farming, for example, can eliminate the need for large areas of land to cultivate high crop yields, using greenhouse skyscrapers to grow food in a controlled, indoor environment[16]. The crops are often grown hydroponically, reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Rooftop farming is a method to combat the urban heat island effect, in which concentrated buildings with dark roofs absorb heat and make these environments (often cities) warmer than surrounding areas. Rooftop farming consists of green roofs that reduce the temperature of the surrounding air while incorporating vegetable growth[17]. This helps reduce energy usage in buildings while also expanding food production within cities. These two methods of urban agriculture are not widely used, but as they become more efficient, they may grow in popularity.

LEED CertificationEdit

LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program used to recognize superb sustainable building strategies and practices[18]. It is one of the most popular green building rating systems in the world and helps encourage building owners to be environmentally conscious and use resources efficiently.

Arcological Thinking in TransportationEdit

Alternative Modes of TransportationEdit

Mass transit systems help reduce emissions created by single household cars. The development of metro and light rail systems provides mass transit both within and between cities, further reducing dependence on automobiles. Some eco-cities are considering “clean” diesel, hybrid diesel, and supercapacitor-powered buses in place of city buses to decrease harmful emissions[19]. By reducing the number of cars on the road, adding alternative modes of transportation can reduce emissions and create more sustainable cities.

Walkable CitiesEdit

An alternative to the traditional vehicular transportation network is a car-free or walkable city. Because cars generate a large carbon footprint and waste natural resources, sustainable transportation systems are moving toward car-free or walkable cities[20]

One way of making cities more walkable is by creating underground networks of walkways. These are useful in cities with extreme climate, since people don’t have to rely on weather to engage in activities comfortably. For example, hotels and casinos along the Las Vegas Strip are connected by a series of underground walkways, allowing people to walk almost three miles without going outside[21]. These walkways help promote resource accessibility for a large population, while limiting private transportation. The networks align with arcology concepts, but they do not represent full arcologies since they’re not self-sustainable.


Arcology is one alternative for future city design. The idea combats current city sustainability issues. This case highlights the need for cities to change in response to global problems. As population growth, resource depletion, and food scarcity continue to develop, it is critical for cities to adapt to meet the needs of both citizens and the environment.

While this topic developed the concept of arcology and its societal implications, further work can extend the scope to understand the current problems plaguing cities. Although this chapter touched on this, further research could delve into the complexities surrounding megacities and their unintended consequences.


  1. Population Reference Bureau (2015). Human Population: Urbanization. http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.aspx
  2. Institute of the Advanced Study of Sustainability (2015). Sustainable Urban Futures. http://urban.ias.unu.edu/index.php/cities-and-climate-change/
  3. Grierson, D. (2003). Arcology and Arcosanti: Towards a Sustainable Built Environment. Electronic Green Journal, (18).
  4. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2014). World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects.html
  5. Thorpe, D. (2015). 20 City and Regional Governments Pledge to Save 5% of Global Carbon Emissions. Sustainable Cities Collective.
  6. a b c d Cosanti Foundation (2012). Introduction to Arcology. https://arcosanti.org/Arcology
  7. Cosanti Foundation (2012). Design Principles. https://arcosanti.org/node/8628
  8. Soleri, P. (1976). Dam Arcology. Arcosanti Newsletter
  9. Cosanti Foundation (2012). Frequently Asked Questions about Arcosanti. https://arcosanti.org/FAQ
  10. Ash, T. (2014). Neoarcology: True Sustainability Through the Application of Permaculture, Aquaponics, and Arcology (pp. 5).
  11. Morris, J. (Producer), & Gilliam, T. (Director). (2008). Wall-E [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures Pixar.
  12. Silverberg, R. (1971). The World Inside. New York, NY: Doubleday.
  13. Joon-ho, B. (Director). (2014). Snowpiercer [Motion picture]. South Korea: The Weinstein Company.
  14. Downton, P. (2009). Ecopolis: Architecture and Cities for a Changing Climate (pp. 92).
  15. Eco-city Builders (2010). History. http://www.ecocitybuilders.org/about-us/history/
  16. Vertical Farming: Does it Really Stack Up? (2010). The Economist.
  17. Chicago Department of Environment. A Guide to Rooftop Gardening. http://www.artic.edu/webspaces/greeninitiatives/greenroofs/images/GuidetoRooftopGardening_v2.pdf
  18. U.S. Green Building Council (2015). Green Building Facts. http://www.usgbc.org/articles/green-building-facts
  19. World Bank. (2009). Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City: A Case Study of an Emerging Eco-City in China (pp. 62).
  20. Crawford, J. (2002). Carfree Cities. http://www.carfree.com/intro_cfc.html
  21. Geere, D. (2011). Five Real World Arcologies Under Construction. Wired.