Architecture + Ecology in AZ
November 16, 2003 3:06 PM   Subscribe

"We have a society that is moving very rapidly to the super-, super-, super-consumptive," says architect Paolo Soleri. "And I'm proposing that might not be the final answer. So I'm saying, why don't we try a leaner alternative?" (via PBS; more inside.)
posted by .kobayashi. (21 comments total)
His leaner alternative is an experimental city called Arcosanti, built in a mesa in Arizona. And by using the apse as its multiple-structure geometric basis, it avoids some of the problems of the mega-tower that we've discussed some time ago. But, as an experiment in arcology, it seems to be a mixed bag at worst, or at best, only in the beginning stages of a much larger plan. In any case, it's a decidedly sustainable ecological focus that fundamentally separates this from earlier visions of the urban ideal.

It's heady stuff, and some of this seems a bit esoteric at times; other parts just baffle me. Personally, I am more intrigued by the project as large-scale outdoor art than as a social experiment. After all, it sure makes for nice photographs (see here, here, and everything here).

Also, I would have pointed out on the front page that, in conjunction with James Turrell's Roden Crater Project opening to the public in 2005, Arizona is on the verge of becoming a very interesting spot for those interested in areas where large-scale art meets the environment, but we have talked about Turrell twice before, here, and here. (But, do be a dear and follow the Turrell links if you missed those conversations before, because that's a fascinating project too.) Now, if only the desert installations that Delillo described in Underworld were real...
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:08 PM on November 16, 2003

Who else here heard of arcologies first from Sim City 2000?
posted by twitch at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

In short: the world has too many people.
posted by Postroad at 3:38 PM on November 16, 2003

This brings me back. When I was seven or eight, my family was driving across Arizona, and I insisted that we detour hours out of our way to tour Arcosanti. (I'd read about it in one of the Whole Earth books.) Being extremely, extremely nice to me, my parents assented.

(excellent first FPP, .kobayashi.!)
posted by Vidiot at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2003

Actually, I first heard of an "Arcology" from a William Gibson book. Now I know what it means, thanks! ;)
posted by Jimbob at 3:45 PM on November 16, 2003

This is an excellent post by the way. I missed an opportunity to visit Arcosanti when travelling out west a few years ago, which I regret. Social dynamics and architecture are a huge interest of mine and I think one of the other benefits to a planned community like Arcosanti (as opposed to suburban sprawl or gentrified city neighborhoods) is the feeling of shared public space, which really does change how a society operates.
The dorms at my college were designed by IM Pei, with a spacial plan to turn the building back in on itself: you couldn't walk between any 2 rooms in a straight line, which made socializing with your neighbors in all kinds of odd common spaces impossible to avoid.
I've always felt, from what I've read about arcosanti, that living there would have a similar feeling.
Also, that henard article about the panopticon city is something I'm going to have to spend some time with.
posted by twitch at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2003

A lesson about ecology. Due North from Arcosanti is another environmentally intelligent habitat--Montezuma's Castle. Due South is the great city of people who force nature to do their bidding, and plan to continue to force it indefinitely--Phoenix.

Montezuma's Castle is deserted. They ran out of food and water a thousand years ago.
posted by kablam at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2003

Watch out for Bud and Doyle.
posted by RubiX^3 at 4:39 PM on November 16, 2003

Who else here heard of arcologies first from Sim City 2000?

*raises hand*:D

earthships are also nice! also fwiw btw, just saw this on worldchanging -- a look at sustainable architecture from metropolismag.

but yeah, arcosanti seems more conceptual eden project/biosphere2/epcot center/xanadu rather than practicable (with the potential to turn from utopian to like a darco"big u"arcology or something :) i'd think rooftop gardens and bike paths and stuff, if not as radical, being more incremental, would have a higher chance of being adopted. like if A is now and B is ideal, it's nice knowing about B, which is important, but i think just as important is how to get from A to B!
posted by kliuless at 4:47 PM on November 16, 2003

I first heard of arcology from a rogue dealer on probation, one of those early refugees from the meatgrinder deft enough to squeak past the whirring blades....

Arcology? I thought it was his invented terminology. Nit. Not. Interesting.
posted by troutfishing at 7:03 PM on November 16, 2003

Yep, what Jimbob said. Encountered the word 'arcology' in Count Zero. Looked it up. Didn't find it. Never knew what it meant.

This is an interesting project, though obviously sort of boutique-y. I can't tell where they're getting water, whether from sustainable sources, or from an aquifer that won't be replenished before the next ice age.

Postroad, the solution to overpopulation is wealth. The most prosperous nations—Japan, many nations in Europe—have a problem with birthrates insufficient to sustain the population. (The only reason the US doesn't is lots of immigration.)
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:20 PM on November 16, 2003

Great post! My pick of the week!
posted by Quartermass at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2003

the solution to overpopulation is wealth.

...and education. Although arguably the two go hand in hand.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:32 PM on November 16, 2003

I first saw the word "arcology" in Neuromancer, which went on to give me a pretty good explanation of it.

I read a journal written by a woman living and working at Arcosanti and have become fascinated with the place and with arcologies in general.

This is great stuff, .kobayashi., thank you.
posted by swerve at 2:10 AM on November 17, 2003


I think the point is not that the world has too many people (which is of course debatable), but that we could design our cities on a much more efficient, human scale.
posted by johnny novak at 5:54 AM on November 17, 2003

"Postroad, the solution to overpopulation is wealth. ..."

Great - well, we've solved that problem now. We just need to raise 3 or 4 billion people up to European or American levels of affluence. And along the way, we'll have to achieve factor 20 increases in materials use efficiency since there just isn't enough of this 'ol Earth to allow those additional affluent billions to consume resources the way even the somewhat materials-use efficient Europeans do.

Or an additional 3 or 4 billion consuming as Americans do? Forget it, unless we can figure out how to start grinding up the Moon for raw materials.
posted by troutfishing at 6:16 AM on November 17, 2003

BTW, wealth does correlate with low birthrates, but studies of the Indian state of Kerala have shown that wealth - in itself - is not the real factor driving the correlation.

The actual factors which drive lower birthrates seem to be 1) higher levels of educational attainment among women - basic literacy or better (access to education) , 2) Access to enough food (to avoid starvation) and to clean water and, 3) Access to basic health care, including - of course - access to birth control technologies. In addressing these basic needs, the state of Kerala - perhaps the poorest Indian state or at least close to the poorest - managed substantial reductions in it's birthrate, faster reductions even than those which China achieved through it's coercive "One child per couple" policy.

In other words, First-World levels of affluence are not at all necessary for dramatically lowered birthrates.

"While Kerala is not one of the richest
states in India
, it has the highest life expectancy in India (more than 70 years - a little higher than China's) and the highest rate of literacy in general and female literacy in particular (higher than that in China as a whole and also, for the corresponding rural populations, higher than every
province in China, particularly so in female literacy.) The Keralan birth rate of 20 per thousand in the corresponding period, and this has been achieved not by compulsory birth control or the violation of any individual liberty to decide on these matters, but by the voluntary exercise of the
family's right to family planning."

"Rapid population growth, then, results from poverty and powerlessness, the need for family labor or the income children can bring home, high infant-mortality rates, and lack of education and opportunity for women. Our thesis for fertility decline is that, during the demographic transition, population growth normally slows only with far-reaching changes in society. Unfortunately, these changes can be of a positive or a negative nature.

On the positive side are economic and political changes that reduce infant mortality and convince the majority of people that social arrangements beyond the family-jobs, health care, old-age security, and education (especially for women)-offer security, or at least better opportunities than does large family size. We can call that the positive way that fertility rates fall, or because people are better off, they need fewer children."

For additional background, also see Frances Lappe's FoodFirst.Org's "Twelve myths about hunger"
posted by troutfishing at 6:41 AM on November 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

*basically agrees with troutfishing*

*books skiing vacation in Hell*
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:20 AM on November 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

troutfishing, that was the most educational comment I've seen in a while; were I Matt, I'd put it on the sidebar. I've never seen such a clear and concise explanation of the lack of direct correlation between wealth and low birth rate. Thanks.

Oh, and great post!
posted by languagehat at 7:22 AM on November 17, 2003

In short: the world has too many people.

Yes. Now, how do you solve the problem? Or will 'Nature' solve it for man just like 'nature' solves all over population problems with a catostrophic collapse of the population via making the environment unliviable.

Plague, being unable to live in the waste stream, destruction of the habitat, or simply turning on one another in slaughter.....take your pick for the happy, fun, bright future!

(Ya know....if population doesn't grow and would shrink you would have less expenduture in tax dollars. Think about it next time you want lower taxes)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:28 AM on November 17, 2003

Awesome post. I first heard of Arcosanti and arcology from "The Kids Whole Earth Future Catalog" which was chock-full of neat stuff, not just people like Buckminster Fuller or Paolo Soleri, who are indeed neat-o.

It was also stuffed cover-to-cover with stuff like computers, global computer/communication networks, portable wrist phones, genetic engineering, robotics, alternative energy sources, alternative transportation and more. Some of that isn't so exciting you say? This was in 1978 or so, and was revolutionary back then.

Now much of the stuff in that book has come to be quite common, but not enough of it has. If every kid or family had a copy of that book, we'd have a good chance at living in utopia in this generation. Maybe we should buy that book for our kids, or write one like it for this generation.

Delta thrives, indeed. Down with scarcity economics! Down with greed! Up with consciousness and sharing! Revolution happens in your mind!

"The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking."
-- Albert Einstein

posted by loquacious at 7:29 PM on November 17, 2003

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