A city with state-of-the-art infrastructure, British design and a motto that goes – Live-Work-Play, Masdar City in the UAE is the gold standard of planned cities
WORDS: AMOGH PUROHIT
In 2008, the Government of Abu Dhabi laid the foundation to a dream city; one that is sustainable and has zero waste and carbon emissions. Introducing Masdar City, a city that combines state-of-the-art technologies with the planning principles of traditional Arab settlements to create a desert community that aims to be carbon neutral and have zero waste.
Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned investment company, pledged financial support to the estimated US$22 bn experiment in urban design.
Through smart investments, Masdar City is successfully pioneering a ‘greenprint’ for how cities can accommodate rapid urbanisation and dramatically reduce energy, water and waste. Its first tenant was the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which has been operating in the city since it moved into its campus in September 2010.
The 640-hectare project is a key component of the Masdar Initiative intended to advance the development of renewable energy and clean-technology solutions for a green, thriving ecology that is beyond oil. The city aims to become a centre for the advancement of new ideas for energy production, and provide a space for businesses to network and grow organically. Pun intended. These businesses will also aim at sustainable growth, aiding the development of Abu Dhabi’s ‘Estidama’ rating system for sustainable building.
Designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners, the city relies on solar energy and other renewable energy sources for its energy.
Masdar City is constructed 17 kms east-south-east of Abu Dhabi, and besides the city’s international airport.
A mixed-use, low-rise, high-density development, Masdar City includes the headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency and the recently completed Masdar Institute. Strategically located for Abu Dhabi’s transport infrastructure, Masdar is linked to neighbouring communities and the international airport by existing road and rail routes. So everything a business requires to function well is at a stone’s throw distance.
In fact, the city is so green that it will be the first modern community in the world to operate without fossil-fuelled vehicles at a street level. With a maximum distance of 200 mts to the nearest rapid transport links and amenities, the city is designed to encourage walking, while its shaded streets and courtyards offer an attractive pedestrian environment, sheltered from climatic extremes.
The land surrounding the city will contain wind and photovoltaic farms, research fields and plantations, allowing the community to be entirely energy self-sufficient. Jetsons-style driver-less electric cars shuttle around taking you anywhere around the city in almost no time. Masdar is a sustainable development project designed to be friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. The development is divided into two sectors, bridged by a linear park, and is being constructed in phases, beginning with the larger sector.
The master plan is designed to be flexible, to allow it to benefit from emergent technologies and to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the initial phases.
Expansion has been anticipated from the outset, allowing for growth while avoiding the sprawl that besets so many cities. While Masdar’s design represents a specific response to its location and climate, the underlying principles are applicable anywhere the world. In that sense, it offers a blueprint for the sustainable city of the future.
At the city’s core is an innovation engine. The city is growing its neighbourhoods around the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The institute is Masdar City’s
nucleus, which extends a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout. Companies can foster close ties with the university and partner with it to spark economic growth and accelerate breakthrough technologies to market.
Masdar is powered by a 22-ha field of 87, 777 solar panels with additional ones on roofs. There are no light switches or water taps in the city.
You enter a room and movement sensors light it up. Same with the taps – move your hand away from under a tap and water stops gushing out. This is supposed to cut electricity and water consumption by 51 and 55 per cent respectively.
The exterior wood used throughout the city is palm wood, a sustainable hardwood-substitute developed by Pacific Green using plantation coconut palms that no longer bear fruit. Palm wood features include the entrance gates, screens and doors. Water management has been planned in an environmentally sound manner as well. Approximately 80 per cent of the water used will be recycled and waste water will be reused ‘as many times as possible’, with this grey water being used for crop irrigation and other purposes.
The city captures prevailing winds and is naturally cooler and more comfortable during the high summer temperatures. But the sun is also a blessing to this sustainable city. Harnessing the sun’s rays, Masdar uses clean energy generated on site from rooftop solar technology and is one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the Middle East.
With a few thousand people living and working in Masdar City, it is on its way to realising its vision. But this is only the beginning. Masdar City continues to add new businesses, schools, restaurants, apartments and much more, creating the diversity of any major, modern city. When complete, 40,000 people will live in Masdar City, with an additional 50,000 commuting every day to work and study here.
The original master plan envisioned a city functioning on its own grid with full carbon neutrality. However, the development was later hooked into the public system, and by 2016, its managers determined that the city would never reach net-zero carbon levels.
Ten years on, however, only a fraction of the town has been built – less than 5 per cent of the original six sq km ‘greenprint’. The completion date has been pushed back to 2030. Some skeptics are concerned that the city, even when completed, will be only symbolic for Abu Dhabi.
However, this is a brave step toward living in an oil-free world; a world where cities are future-ready. Sustainable and renewable are the keywords here. Where businesses, people and nature can thrive in absolute harmony.