Arcologies, Urbmon 116 and protocols

Summary – folks who are designing super-mega-structures are missing the boat. Designing interfaces/protocols to allow pieces of very large structures to link to each other is, as far as I’m concerned, much cooler.


I’ve long been a fan of very large structures – I discovered Paolo Soleri and arcologies via the Whole Earth Catalog many years ago and was fascinated by the scale and organic beauty of many of his designs. Sci fi – generation ships/space habitats and Robert Silverberg’s dystopian The World Inside – helped fan the flames. I’ve been thinking big again – the past couple days have been one of those ‘the internet is telling you something’ experiences.

It (re)started two days ago when Bruce Sterling put up a link to an Inhabitat post: MILE HIGH ULTIMA TOWER: Vertical eco city works like a tree. What struck me – not for the first time – is how static this thing would be. It’s supposed to hold a million people – we’re talking all of Detroit or Birmingham or Adelaide. None of those cities is finished, in the sense that a building can be said to be finished – they’re churning, tearing up/down, growing/shrinking – there’s no point at which the prime contractor turns the keys over to the developer. Does it make sense to think that a million person structure would be a scaled up Petronas Towers?

While I was visiting Inhabitat, I indulged my curiosity a bit – I searched for ‘shipping containers’ – I keep thinking about putting some containers together as (hopefully) very low cost shelter out in the hinterlands someplace (maybe something Bruce Goff-esque – Bavinger or Bob Barns, using containers, phone poles and cable – yes, I’m a hack and a nut). Sniffing around led me to Lot-ek (warning – they’ll resize windows on you and the site is set up in a way that makes linking to specific pages impossible – I recommend you just take a peek at the screen cap below). They’ve not only designed small container based houses; they’ve also put together plans for larger structures.

Lot-ek Train Station

Shipping containers are well defined – sizes, how they fit together – but as far as componentry in a larger structure is concerned, the definition is pretty shallow – no power, water, or other services in or out.

Geoff Manaugh’s (BLDGBLOG) Flickrstream supplied the final thread (he put up this post as I wrote the last para). The idea of floating cities has been, well, floating around for a while – the ultimate pirate utopia. Governance issues aside, seems to me that this could be a fruitful area for work on interface specifications. Just as the internet doesn’t care if you are sitting in front of a Mac, or are telneted into an IBM z-series or are using WebTV (does that still exist?) as long as you comply with relevant RFCs, so too Floatopia-land shouldn’t care what your bobbing pleasure palace looks like as long as it connects to the rest of the structure in a specific way, it’s sized in multiples of X by Y by Z, complies with stability standard 1.1.1, etc. The marine environment is pretty unforgiving – marine architecture isn’t a specific field for nothin’ – but the safety and survivability problems need to be addressed regardless. RFC 1149 meets The Raft from Stephenson’s Snow Crash – let’s float!

6 thoughts on “Arcologies, Urbmon 116 and protocols

  1. We’re definitely thinking about the idea of a protocol stack for seasteads, where lower layers specify the physical interconnections for modularity. This might be platforms connecting to platforms, or it might be shipping container rooms. (We’re really into modularity, so we’re considering making the buildings modular, as well as the platforms.)

  2. Thanks for the link – very interesting! I’m hoping is going to navigate closer to the pirate utopia ideal rather than the (agree w/ Miéville on this one) *huge air quotes* Freedom Ship.

  3. You may or may not know that in Mongolia, even big cities, containers are used for stores, small houses, storage– and are ubiquitous. We often joke about getting one here to add to the “atmosphere”.

  4. I am a member of a homesteading forum and there are a couple of people there who used shipping containers as temporary housing while building a ‘real’ house. One guy insulated his by piling hay bales around the outside. I have seen examples of homes made from shipping containers and they generally fail, simply because in an effort to up the cool factor the builders also up the cost factor.

  5. There is an insulative coating called SuperTherm that provides an RE value of 19 with one coat. There are now many, many residences in California employing shipping containers and a few in Minnesota, a testament to the versatility of the idea.

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