Monday, August 3, 2015

Arcologies Can Be Beautiful

In a previous post it was pointed out that an alien civilization existing on one planet for millennia, with substantial population, would have to recycle almost everything to a high degree. This implies that they would live in cities, mostly closed, so that materials could be collected and reprocessed in the recycling facilities. Some coarse calculations on population limits on a Earth-sized planet indicated about a thousand cities with ten million alien citizens each, and suggested that each of these could be thought of as a cube 10 km by 10 km by 100 stories high.

One term for a city structure of this type, where all types of facilities are included within a single shell, is arcology, from architecture and ecology. The suggestion of dimensions was intended to provide a vision of the size of the structure, but there is no reason that it would have to be a boring like a cube. A cube-like shape might be the most efficient in use of structural materials, but an alien civilization would not necessarily have to choose the most efficient shape. It could do the opposite, and design each city with a unique shape and with a unique interior design as well. Alien arcologies could be beautiful, to them of course.

There have been arcologies designed by prominent architects and architectural firms here on earth, and these can serve to demonstrate that arcologies can be beautifully designed. None of the arcologies designed here so far was of the scale that would be required by an alien city, but the point is not that we have designs that could provide a preview of what an alien planet might have, but that architects can conceive of interesting structures that incorporate the idea of a closed city, containing everything needed for the production and recycling of all materials inside the external shell. There is not much interest in such things here on Earth, but the idea of a massive arcology is certainly conceivable and even might be a fascinating design challenge for someone equally skilled in architectural design and the engineering of facilities to become interested in.

Most of the citizens would spend almost all of their time inside the city, so that if it was to be called beautiful in their eyes, the interior design would have to be chosen for this purpose. The design of an arcology would not be like the design of one of today’s large buildings, as the diversity of uses that an alien arcology would have to support would imply a corresponding diversity of the internal structures. Manufacturing and recycling facilities might need large internal volumes, and certain types of public structures might also be chosen to provide a large vista from within the structure. Nowadays, public buildings on Earth sometimes have characteristic shapes, so that they are recognizable as an icon. Putting something iconic inside a massive structure, when the specific facility might only occupy a fraction of a percent of the whole space, requires some ways of thinking about layouts and perspectives. Alien civilizations with some millennia under their belts would have progressed to what might be called asymptotic architecture, where it is understood as a science is understood, using basic principles rather than individual flair and inspiration. Individual flair and inspiration have a place in the early days of the alien civilization, and serve as the ore from which the science is extracted. So also do the catalogers and organizers of the concepts with flair and inspiration, all the better to make them available to the following generations of architects as well as to serve to provide a completeness of understanding that a science typically provides.

Transportation inside a building of this scale would also be a challenge for today’s architects. We typically depend on walking in the horizontal dimensions and stairs, fixed or moving, and elevators for the vertical dimension. In a large,three-dimensional alien city there could be a variety of means other than this in both directions. We don’t typically think of automobiles inside of buildings with living spaces, but with the proper propulsion, it is certainly possible.

So while the inside of the cities would be fertile areas for architectural design, would the outside be something resembling early USSR architecture? Even if only a few people are on the outside at any given time, there are reasons why external forms other than the basic geometric shapes would be desirable. These cities are not prisons, with no interaction with the outside. There would be views from one part of the city’s external walls, and if the footprint was not simple, some part of the exterior would be seen. Perhaps the city would be designed with a hollow center, with views stretching across one or more kilometers. The point of the architecture is to make the city an interesting and desirable place for the citizens, within the constraints forced upon them. If you imagine the architectural ideas, or rather the views that have been created over the last few hundred years here on Earth, and multiply this by ten or a hundred, you might have some vision of what visiting an alien planet might be like.

There would be no need for all of the cities to have exactly a quorum of ten million people; this was just a scoping estimate. There could be small ones, ranging from the minimum needed for all the facilities, up to several times that limit. Certain designs might work best with small cities and others with huge ones. Again, the point is that managing population, resources, and energy provides an abundance of what we would call wealth that can be used to provide a living environment that adds to the life of the citizens. Asymptotic technology certainly would include city management, so that the proper techniques for creating an interesting environment, both in fixed infrastructure and in the dynamic use of it, would be available and used.

There are some constraints that are not mutable, however. As has been noted many times, recycling of everything is mandatory. This includes recycling of the materials used for the infrastructure. The cities would have to be designed so that part of them could be being processed for renewal at any given time. The infrastructure of the city would be gradually torn down and replaced, or at least partially refinished as the decades and centuries passed. Perhaps the design of the city would stay the same, but the materials making it up would change, similar to the way the oxygen atoms in our bodies have a fixed lifetime and return to the atmosphere, with others replacing them.

All in all, not only would the social environment of the city be designed to optimize the variety and interest of the citizens’ lives, but the city itself would be.

No comments:

Post a Comment