Words by Fiona Jenvey, CEO Mudpie & Mpdclick…
All eyes turn East to the Arabian Desert as the gates to Masdar,he world’s first ‘sustainable city’ open; a technical, ecological and social mini utopia which could influence every aspect of the sustainability of Mankind.
Imagine a city which is cooled by captured desert winds and air conditioning powered by the desert sun with no combustion engines an unimaginable concept for a region which owes its entire wealth to the oil industry. Back in 2007 when the government of Abu Dhabi (UAE) announced its plan for “the world’s first zero carbon city” it was dismissed by many as a gimmick. Partially completed now and designed by UK architects Foster and Partners, the city, a ‘tommorrw land’ called Masdar is a perfect square and raised to catch desert winds. Beneath pedestrian streets, electric vehicles transport the population around through a network of tunnels. Masdar is also home to a research institute focused on renewable energy and sustainability and in the future will be the headquarters of some of the world’s largest clean-tech companies.
Features of this city, which is designed to house 45,000 residents, include wind towers which funnel air cooled by water into the street and photovoltaic panels that power buildings. Masdar Headquarters, the city’s largest office building expects to produce more energy than it consumes. Ancient methods of construction combined with modern technology reduce the heat of the desert by as much as 70 degrees. This cooling system also has other benefits; for example, obesity is a big problem in the UAE because everyone drives to avoid the heat- in Masdar residents can walk down the cooled streets without a problem.
As part of his research, architect Mr Foster began with meticulous research of old Arab settlements including the ancient citadel of Aleppo in Syria and the mud brick apartment towers of Shibam in Yemen. However even with technical brilliance and the sensitivity to local norms, it will be a challenge for Masdar to achieve the rich culture of a real city. Masdar may have cleverly combined ancient methods of construction with technoligy, but will this self sustained society be the start of a new global future or just another Disney Land styled mini utopia for the mega rich leaving those outside in ghettos where issues like sustainability literally mean survival?
Image source: masdar.ae