Arcology Circle

Integral Neighborhood Poster by William Mastin

In 1973 Richard was still making tactile sculpture and writing occasional articles.  In addition he was organizing Equinox and Solstice events promoting the idea of creating a world holiday for the natural cycles of the Earth — a kind of Earth Day based on the actual calendar of the planet.  At about that time, Paolo Soleri invited him to a seminar at Arcosanti, now a bustling little community in two clusters of buildings.

The seminar was on what Paolo called the “Two Suns” concept.  One sun, the one rolling overhead every day, feeding the plants and us via photosynthesis, the other the spirit of humanity evolving. The centerpiece of discussion was the idea of shaping arcological cities in relation to the sun, while simultaneously shaping them to help shape evolving human beings.  The structures Soleri was contemplating leaned into the sun, creating areas of controlled light and shadow working with the seasons, while the structure of the whole city functioned with heretofore unheard-of efficiencies, saving land, energy, time, money, and biological richness.

Shortly after the Two Suns seminar Richard moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.  He decided to put together a slide show on cities, ecological issues, and Soleri’s work in particular.  In a haphazard way he began making presentations to friends in his Berkeley apartment, at coffee houses in San Francisco, for classes and conferences at Stanford and Berkeley and other schools. During this time he built his largest tactile sculpture at the Exploratorium and wrote a few more articles.

In 1975, Richard and about 25 arcology enthusiasts started “Arcology Circle”, reflecting their dedication to as non-hierarchical a organizational structure as possible. Their mission was to build and help others build ecologically healthy cities and learn and educate along the way.  They were specifically interested in the new town approach but frequently found themselves thinking about what to  do in the communities they actually lived in, mostly Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. That interest grew rapidly — while meantime leads for any new town projects failed to materialize. Then a mid-scale project began to look possible, not a new town, but a reshaped neighborhood.

The Farallones Institute’s Integral Urban House had been an  inspiration to many of the members of Arcology Circle and so they proposed an “Integral Neighborhood,” “integral” meaning that the parts within were important to one another and mutually supportive. The Integral House had brought together solar greenhouse and solar hot water, composting toilets and productive gardening, bee keeping, energy conservation features, a recycling system, seminar space, offices and residential space for students and staff.

Richard and Arcology Circle proposed to take the next  step.  Working with Integral House staff and volunteers, church groups, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and several local businesses, they created a group that proposed a neighborhood with such features, but planned so that jobs would also be provided close to residents.  Homes would be clustered in part of the property and gardens opened up in other parts, an internal foot street would be created with cafe and various stores and a small movie theater or other facilities the community might decide upon.  There would be windmills, solar greenhouses, rooftop gardens and preservation of the old buildings that still remained.  In the future they would do largely what had been done in the past: mixed uses, meaning housing, jobs, shops — almost everything. The notion was to bridge the gap between the Integral House concept and the integral city concept with a functioning integral neighborhood.

By 1979 Arcology Circle organized a conference called “Planning and Constructing Integral Neighborhoods.”  They launched an anti-car campaign called Car Wars,  and prepared to release upon the world their horticultural automotive wonder, the Vegetable Car.

Richard and the members of Arcology Circle were beginning to use the words “ecological cities,” and, by then, Richard was abbreviating those two words to “ecocities.”  Soleri wanted to reserve “arcology” for cities that were, essentially,  single structure buildings.  Richard and friends felt that existing cities could be radically altered to a state that functioned in similar pedestrian fashion, but might look more chaotic and loose knit, and would not be produced by the coordinating design decisions of a single person, even if a great artist of city-building, which was Soleri’s preference. But they could see how the Integral Neighborhood — and many other things they wanted to do — was good urban ecology if not arcology.  And so, they changed their name to Urban Ecology.