In some corners of popular culture, the word arcology is practically synonymous with “hive”, and is typically portrayed as a teeming city-building, stuffed to the gills with people in a situation just short of an apocalypse.
However, the word arcology is a neologism of architecture and ecology. The idea advocates cities designed to maximize the interaction and accessibility associated with an urban environment. At the same time, the design acts to minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and environmental pollution. The compact yet open design facilitates interaction with the surrounding natural environment.
The arcology concept is a very high-density urban design, putting living, working and recreational space in close proximity. This drastically cuts the need for roads, and the pollution, congestion, and hazards that go with them.
Arcologies would use a variety of means to provide heat and light throughout the structure, including active and passive solar systems. Even the vertical city design of the hyper tower emphasizes light and open space, with multiple open spaces and gardens along the height of the tower. An arcology exists within, and as part, of its surrounding environment. In an arcology, the built and living portions of its environment interact as parts of a highly evolved whole. This means many systems work together, with efficient circulation of people and resources, multi-use buildings, and solar power for lighting, heating and cooling.
From an environmental standpoint, what does something like an arcology gain us? The high population density gives us many gains, while the design of the structure itself mitigates many of the social impacts of high density living. Chiefly, high density life-styles requires less; less space, less energy, less money, less time spent commuting. Less money for cars and maintaining cars, buying. Less time spent in gridlock. Indeed, with an arcology, as envisioned by the man who developed the concept, there would be no cars within the city itself. High density life also bring negatives into the equation: the lack of privacy, claustrophobia, and crowding. However the open design of an arcology, the use of light and form, can minimize these. One of the core precepts of the experimental Arco Santi project is the protection of privacy.
For the time being, it would be difficult to imagine a city like this being built in North America. However, it is very easy to envision something like this being brought to fruition in a developing nation, especially ones like India and China, where we can see some very high urban densities even now. As they industrialize, they may well decide that an integrated structure that can house, entertain, and enlighten their workforce, at a fraction of the land requirement of a conventional city, may be well worth pursuing.