Special Reports
Abu Dhabi 2030 Masterplan

By Adrian Hornsby
The Architects' Journal
October 29, 2008

Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is a staggeringly ambitious document that promises tens of
thousands of hectares of new build

Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is an astonishing document. Architects in Abu Dhabi live
with it on their desks, occasionally stroking its pages which promise tens of
thousands of hectares of new build and cracking their fingers. If anything,
there is too much work. Yet while the scale is epochal, in contrast to the
pandemonium that is Dubai, the detail of the masterplan is meticulous and
considered. Infrastructure is thoughtfully planned and, in all cases, precedes
programmatic development. Density levels are judiciously aligned to
public-transport options. The coastlines of Abu Dhabi's natural island formation
are cleverly exploited. A distaste for 'undifferentiated urban sprawl' and a
strong pedestrian focus permeate all aspects of the plan, as does an ambitious
environmental theme.

For firms working in the city, Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 sets the framework (use,
density, parking, height, etc). Beyond that, the most common brief is 'build me
an icon; here is the budget'. Architects out there talk rapidly about what they
are working on, with the sense that they are at the vanguard of a new mode of
urbanism. The bigger the project, the more groundbreaking the expectations.
These are exemplified by the Masdar initiative to build an environmentally
sustainable city in a barren landscape that naturally sustains no life.

Evenden insists: 'It's just as viable to be green in the desert as anywhere else
in fact, more so, because you have the solar resource.' Desalination and
cooling are the environmentally heavy elements, but these simply mean architects
have to 'work harder'. Passive design techniques come to the fore, and Foster's
designs make extensive use of traditional Middle Eastern walled-city
configurations to maintain comfort with minimal air conditioning. Solar-thermal
water heating and the reuse of grey water for irrigation are key elements, and
salt by-products from desalination may be used for smelting aluminium. Bolting
on the photovoltaics comes last.

Beyond technical targets for the architecture, the core aim of Masdar is to
become a 'Silicon Valley for renewables'. Even before Foster became involved,
Abu Dhabi was in negotiation with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
and Imperial College London about a Masdar research centre focusing on
environmental breakthroughs in new energy technologies.

This evidences a 'depth of thought' that, for Evenden, makes Masdar
categorically unique. 'If you tried to do these things in the UK, people would
stop you,' he says. In Abu Dhabi they produce 9 billion up front, and have
columns coming out of the ground one year later. Evenden is unequivocal: 'For
Foster + Partners, our greatest projects are coming out of Abu Dhabi.'


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