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Folio: Paolo Soleri's Space Arcologies

Comprehending the earth’s fragility through spacebound habitats

Folio jpg

Folio jpg

Space still looms as an event horizon for architecture – degree zero. Is there a site more utopian? It is, after all, a true non-place, a tabula rasa (save for the debris and satellites), one in which we cannot survive without technological constructs, and one in which architecture enters a murky black hole that muddles its meanings, concepts and purpose. It remains unknown enough to maintain its romance yet, at the time of writing, it is home to six inhabitants (humans, at least).

Italian architect Paolo Soleri, coiner of the term ‘arcology’ for a dense, integrated and often self-sustaining habitat, had a keen eye on life without the Earth’s support. Two of Soleri’s 1987 space-bound arcologies, Euclidean and The Bite (above), were a response to the increasingly war-like approach to space (in fiction with Star Trek and in reality with the American Star Wars programme) that could be both free-floating or attached to asteroids.

Our time on Earth would end, Soleri suspected, not due to any misbehaviour on man’s part, but due to the senescence of the sun. Given we have some 7.5 billion years before the sun engulfs us, Soleri was perhaps underestimating humanity’s proclivity to misbehave. Save for Foster + Partners’ 3D-printed moon bases, our intentions spacewards are no longer colonial, but industrial or commercial – space flights and asteroid mining will no doubt leave our ancestors a few problems when they attempt to flee the expanding sun.

Soleri’s designs were not intended as escapist fantasies of space as a viable back-up when the Earth failed, but as an educational tool. In Soleri’s own words, ‘it could be the shortest route to real comprehension of the miracle that is the earth … something to be esteemed and loved with sacred gratitude and reverence’. And here is a purpose to be found in all utopian ideas – a shortcut, via the incomprehensible unreal, to comprehending the real.