Link - article by M. Christian and Avi Abrams

Architecture on a dramatic scale... Cities the size of mountains.

Whatever happened to the future? It's still around, of course, mostly in Europe and Japan, but over the years the Fantastic World of Tomorrow's gotten ... cheaper, simpler, and -- most tragically of all -- the future's gotten too damned small.

Luckily there are a few visionaries left who aren't frightened of a future that doesn't fit in your pocket, a tomorrow with a vast scope, a monstrously dramatic scale, a time of awe-inspiring dimensions: they've dared to look over the horizon and visualize a truly big tomorrow.

(Example of a dramatic scale - "Continuous Monument" concept, by Superstudio)

One of those more special of special minds, someone who's imagined a future world that’s big on almost a geologic scale, is Paolo Soleri. (All images are copyright and by permission of Paolo Soleri, Cosanti Foundation)

(on the right - self-made caricature portrait)

Born in Italy in 1919, Soleri studied with Frank Lloyd Wright (you might have heard of him) before setting up his own architecture studio in Arizona. It was in Scottsdale that Soleri began to dream big.

Very, very, very big.

Soleri created the concept of an "arcology," a combo of architecture and ecology. The idea is pretty uncomplicated, though what Soleri did with his concept is wonderfully elaborate: cities have traditionally been urban slime mold, grinding away at the planet as they’ve crawled across the landscape. So why not create cities with as many people as possible in a small as possible footprint? And not only that but why not also make these super cities magnificently, tremendously, elegantly … beautiful?

One of my treasured belongings as a kid was a copy of Soleri’s Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. I would spend hours carefully turning page after page, mesmerized by Soleri’s majestic future, imagining myself strolling under immense vaults, along astounding spans, gazing up at soaring rises, down into artificial canyons of homes, stores, schools, businesses, living in a city the size of … well, big.

Really, really friggin’ big.

Just look at his design for Babel (IID, if you want to be specific): an immense flared cylinder of apartments sitting in a saucer-shaped base of commercial and civil spaces, with some parks, of course. Total population? 550,000. That’s Seattle. That’s Portland. All in one structure -- a structure that’s 1,900 meters high and 3,000 meters at its widest.

That’s more than a mile high and almost two miles wide. Want even more perspective? If you look at one of Soleri’s fantastic plans you’ll often see a strange little symbol to one side, an icon to give you an idea of the scale of his designs: an icon that represents the Empire State Building.

Then there’s Hexadredon, an incredible geometric mountain rising on three immense supports. Home to more than 170,000, it would rise half a mile into the sky and stretch about that same distance across the landscape. Like all of Soleri’s designs, it looks more like a cathedral carved from a mountain than what you might envision for a single vast building; as much art as architecture, as much sculpture as a structure for living.

Put people into cities - to free up the rest of the world for nature

Soleri’s designs are not limited to the dull flatness of the plains. Some of them, like the poetic Stonebow that bridges a canyon with its 200,000 population, the dam city of Arcodiga, or Arcbeam whose mere 65,000 inhabitants live on the side of a cliff, show his amazing ability to visualize a future not only of incredible size but also to work with any location.

Even the ocean: Novanoah’s 400,000 people live, work, and play in a city floating at sea. Even space: Asteromo’s 70,000 people live, work, and play in near-earth orbit.

(image credit: Arcosanti, via)

"3-D Jersey was the winning entry in a 1968 competition to design a new supersonic airport for the Jersey Meadows. There are a few runways and terminals around the base of the structure, but the main feature of the design is the city of one million rising 300 stories around a cybernetic core."

You can buy Paolo Soleri's book (in an appropriately huge format) at this link. You can also order "Hyper Building" poster at Arcosanti site.

Arcosanti Takes Shape

But what’s even more amazing than Soleri’s designs and grander-than-grand visions is that out in the cactus and scorpion wilds of Arizona he and his students are building one: Arcosanti:

(images via)

Originally planned to house a grander number, the new target for this test-bed Arcology is about 5,000 residents, mostly students and artists. Right now it’s home to only about 120 -- with roughly 50,000 tourists stopping by every year to see how things are going. (there was even a movie filmed there: "Nightfall" based on famous science fiction story by Isaac Asimov)

Sure Arcosanti might be a tad on the small side, and, yes, it’s not exactly been blossoming into reality at a rapid pace, but it’s there nonetheless: a beautifully arched and vaulted beginning to what could be a staggeringly beautiful, and breathtakingly immense, future.

Say what you want about the realism of Soleri’s visions but you have to always give him and his student this: in a world where the future is small and cheap they are looking toward tomorrow with big dreams: big, hopeful, dreams.

UPDATE: Some other mega-city projects that came to our attention:

"Sea-City", 1968 - architect Hal Moggridge for Pilkington Glass Company:

Japan's Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid:

Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid is so big that it can not be built unless stronger materials are invented (capable to hold the weight of enormous structure) It's proposed to be more than 2 kilometers high, with housing for 750,000 people. More info.

(image credit: binisystems)

(image credit: Discovery Channel)

And of course, Dubai gets into the game:

According to this info, the proposed Ziggurat will house 1 million people... and will be completely self-sustained.

This is how similar mega-structure might look somewhere in the Midwest:

(images credit: World Architecture News)

See more proposed mega-cities are described on this page and a few ocean-based ones here.
Also check out this informed roundup.

Article by M. Christian and Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arcologies were one of my favorite parts about the SimCity series. Loved to plant about 4-5 of those in an area.

Blogger PT said...

I can't imagine who would want to live in a place like that. You would never own your bit, only rent it, and you couldn't do anything serious to personalize it. Talk about the Neighborhood Association from Hell. Of course, I wouldn't mind if large numbers of other people went to live in one and left the real land open for people who appreciate it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I highly recommend anyone interested in it to do check out arcosanti if they find themselves north of phoenix.

Sure, the project has mostly stalled in a larger sense, but is still self supporting. One thing the pics don't capture is the experience of being in those buildings, very unique, and very refreshing in a sense. It was early summer when I visited, very hot out, and yet quite cool and comfortable inside, without any AC on. The internal distribution of thermal energy and movement of air felt much more fresh and alive than the artificial cold tomb-like experience of most of Phoenix's large buildings that time of year.

Aesthetics aside, Soleri has a gift for creating true living spaces.

Blogger Eliyahu said...

Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket... Having an entire city in one structure leaves the entire population very vulnerable to a variety of disasters: fire, epidemic, power failures, enemy or terrorist attack, etc., not to mention the attendant problems of utilities, waste disposal, emergency evacuation, and maintenance. Some ideas look a lot better on paper than in reality.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They aren't such a clever idea, 1 million people crammed in, what if a bomb goes off in a very important place, you could have up to 1 million casualties!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that Solari's megacities were to some extant a reactin to Frank Loyd Wright's Broadacre City; a vison of continent ecompassing sprawl. PT: actually his vision was a bit more heterogenous. The exteriors aren't very uniform because building really only provides a concrete slab and basic infrastructure. Everything else would be built by the individual "condo-owner."

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

All are legitimate concerns, thanks for this neat discussion.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work and great images.
In my blog i put another arcologies like X-Seed 4000 and Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are all grand ideas that lead to something bigger. While the concerns raised by the commenters here are all valid, these represent the first step in being able to colonize other worlds once they are determined to be able to sustain life, or we have developed the capacity to make other worlds sustain life.

Arcologies like this provide us with an opportunity, built on Earth, to discover the flaws, problems, logistical hurdles and potentials for disaster that exist in the designs prior to building them in space and sending them, fully loaded, to another world, or building them on that world. If they can be made stable in an environment that is already relatively stable, they have passed the first step towards being able to support human life elsewhere in the universe. It is only a few more baby steps to design them in such a way as to be able to survive elsewhere and/or travel there under their own power and land safely.

Big plans require big ideas.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To those who dismissed the idea's based on fear filled sentiments, I am profoundly sorry. A bomb can cause 1 million casualties due to the close proximity of the living quarters? Damn, all it takes is a bigger bomb, which you know each country is always developing and the benefits of being spread out are lost, and the cons are all thats left. Destruction of natural ecosystems around the entire world have been destroyed based on people wanting to own "their" piece. At least with arcologys nature has a better chance of surviving. And humans still just have human problems, like thinking you need more than you have. Americans wake up to the world your part of please.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another cult complete with a saintly founder who enjoys his own opulent private quarters (with desert swimming pool) while his acolytes do all the drudgery trying to get his unwieldy designs to work.

He nowadays passes his time making styrofoam models for the trademark wind chimes. Incidentally, his eco-friendly minions directly invest molten metal into the styrofoam sending gouts of poisonous black hydrocarbons into the otherwise pristine high-desert skies.

"Thinking globally but acting locally." What a crock!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mainly someone said this seems like putting all your eggs in one basket - well think about it this way: Earth = One Basket. We need to spread out and this is a logical primer.

Next to the guy who said leave land to the people who appreciate it. The point of this is to give everyone the opportunity to appreciate land not divide it up and fence it off and 'customize' it.

There will never be enough land to go around and some of the best land is taken by people who assume they have a right to keep it from everyone else.

Blogger bogie said...

lets build one of these over the darian gap!?

glass bottom city-structure overlooking the last and wildest uncivilized part of the world.

it would be quite poetic! the most advanced in conservation and sustainability with a view of that which is untouched.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Bogie... Your comment made my day. Quite an idea!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should really look up the "Ultima" structure. It's about two miles high!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aesthetic fascism:

Whatever practical problems aside, I think these superstructures are terribly garish and being confined inside one would be a living nightmare. An entire cityscape, the aesthetics of my whole life, completely dictated by a single mind (a small group of minds at best)? It would be hell. Also, a lot of people hate living in cities and sometimes I can't blame them.

I think the whole idea is depressing, and an arrogant and I'm glad no one ever really took them seriously.

P.S. I think bogie's idea, while cute, is totally self defeating: having a giant super structure hanging in the sky above the wilderness would kind of ruin the natural beauty and majesty it was built to preserve, and by blocking sunlight, would quickly destroy it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always loved the bells.

This is a wonderful legacy from the drug mist of the 60-70s.

Hopefully, it will survive for the next generation.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally love the idea of giant, elegant and nature concious cities. As it is, on average a city dweller will have a much smaller footprint and most of the drawbacks of city living could be minimized with good planning. I prefer a future with large self-sustaining cities surounded by natural forests, grasslands etc. than one with millions of half acre lots enclosed with white picket fences. Cities are the future and why can't the future be beautiful?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bombs are not a threat. A single nuke can wipe out a region, not just a city. If you are afraid of a bomb, you need to leave cities completely and go back to agrarian life and micro-populations.

In reality, the security of an arcology would be higher, not less - the fact your space is shrunk and easily patrolled given those confines means nothing happens without clearance. It's a fort, people. A fort that is ecological as well as secure as any human could possibly get.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This man has no idea what architecture or what building is about, he's stuck back in the 30's when people thought that our society would lose all sensation due to modernism. He has no understanding of sustainability, future or humanity. Nice drawings though.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuff the green way. Bring back the retro-Future!

Anonymous Patrick Doyle said...

I've lived and worked at Arcosanti on many occasions for months at a time over the past 15 years; it is a wonderful place and is both a refreshing respite from the suburban sprawl of the greater Phoenix area as well as the somewhat inhospitable nature of the desert. Paolo Soleri wanted nothing more than humanity and nature to thrive in this universe.


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