In the museum of vaporware from the twentieth century's imaginarium, one will find a suite of technologies doomed to be perennially futuristic: personal jetpacks and flying cars, moon bases and generation ships, teleportation, and fusion energy. As for the museum itself, it will be an arcology: A building whose design is informed by its local environment, and the poster child of futures that never materialized.
A portmanteau of 'architecture' and 'ecology,' arcology was first theorized by the Italian architect Paolo Soleri in the late 1960s. Billed by its creator as the blueprint for a "city in the image of man," arcologies challenged the notion of the urban environment as something separate from and antagonistic to nature. In Soleri's cities, cars would be useless and the very notion of roads would be abolished as divisive constructs. Work and living spaces would be nearly indistinguishable. There'd be no need to ever use a light bulb during the day or air conditioning during the summer, even in the desert.
If it sounds utopian, that's because it is. At a time when concerns about how human activity is destroying nature have reached a fever pitch, Soleri's ideas sound both attractive and necessary. The renegade architect dedicated the better part of his career to turning his arcological vision into a reality, but 40 years later, arcologies are still mostly the purview of science fiction writers rather than architects.
Nevertheless, a small community has formed around Soleri's ideas over the past half century. Today, these arcology evangelists are committed to shaping the future in accordance with Soleri's ideals. I went to visit them at Arcosanti, a futuristic housing development in the middle of the Sonoran desert. I originally set out to figure out why Soleri's dream had died, but by the time I left Arcosanti, it was apparent that arcology is far from dead. If anything, the architects of the future are just getting started.