Re: arcology & permaculture.

From: Brian D Williams (
Date: Tue Jan 02 2001 - 08:51:08 MST


>My first near-adult ambition was to be an architect and seeing
>Soleri's great big beautiful book about his ideas in the late 60s
>(or was it the very early 70s?) for the first time was one of the
>great aesthetic experiences of my life. However, I've come to a
>position of deep skepticism about the basic premise of the
>arcology since then.

You might be interested in the fact that this book has been re-
released. I share your appreciation of it's value.

>The fundamental issue I take with Soleri's conception of an
>arcology is its reliance on central planning and a priori
>decisions about over-all urban design. At one end of a spectrum
>of how an arcology might actually be built, we see a desire to
>impose structure on urban life at every level from a city's
>inception. It is possible to imagine a less pre-determined and
>more organic implementation, in which the basic structure of an
>arcology is laid out to provide a mechanical and infrastructure
>grid and then fine-scale development is allowed to happen on an
>emergent basis (but, ironically, this would require even more
>prior engineering work than a more fully planned arcology).
>However, in either case, the basic notion of an arcology calls for
>a level of up-front planning that seems inconsistent with the kind
>of open-ended evolutionary flexibility that I've come to see as
>the most healthy fundamental value for urban life.

I think the concept of arcologies has advanced since it's initial
conception as it was always meant to. You might want to visit the
arcosanti web site to see some of the new work.

I like the idea of maintaining flexibility, like Jefferson we can
always start knocking down walls.

The interesting part about arcologies to me is the notion of
applying greater planning than normally goes into urban
development, and reaping the benefits thereof. Arcologies would be
neo-biological and therefore subject to evolutionary pressures as
well as advantages.

>Beyond this, the problem of capital concentration seems to make
>Soleri's most ambitious ideas impractical in any but a world
>completely freed from the economics of scarcity by full-blown
>Drexlerian nanotech. Working as I do now in the world of very
>large scale engineering and construction, I fear the kind of
>social structure required to support the concentration of capital
>required to undertake a "real" arcology as envisioned by Soleri.
>A few hundred million dollars seems to be a practical upper limit
>on the amount of money that can be sunk into development of any
>engineering project by private interests. With current and
>near-term technology, this seems to be far short
>of what would be required to finance the building of the
>infrastructural and civil/structural "core" of a working arcology
>of any meaningful size (even a "village" of a hundred thousand or
>so, much less a real city . . .)

Chip fabs are in the billions, and even now large companies build
whole subdivisions. I think it's a matter of someone talking the

There could be a scale to this, It could start by building very
advanced versions of current apartment buildings. I for one would
be willing to move to a building that possessed more advanced
arcology like features.

But at the same time I see your point, as a former condo owner I've
seen the rise of, and fought battles with, fascist condo
associations as well.


Extropy Institute,
Adler Planetarium
Life Extension Foundation,
National Rifle Association,, 1.800.672.3888
Ameritech Data Center Chicago, IL, Local 134 I.B.E.W

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