Special Reports
A Desert Ecopolis: the Walled City of Masdar

November 19, 2008

Imagine if you will, a dense metropolis rising from a sand of sea in the Arabian
Desert. Surrounded by an impenetrable wall, with low lying buildings perched on
narrow streets and nary an automobile in sight, it almost sounds like the stuff
of old folklore—perhaps the fabled city of Ubar erected once more–but in fact,
this is the future. It’s called Masdar City and it’s the brainchild of Abu Dhabi
Future Energy Company with the collaboration of Foster + Partners. As part of
the Masdar Initiative, the city will spearhead a new center for exploring
sustainable living practices and renewable energy.

Masdar is envisioned as an ecotopia, a green city with zero carbon and zero
waste. Its design balances synthetic vernacular architecture with futuristic
detail. A screen of thin-film solar panels will form an urban canopy to ward off
the heat and provide energy. A dense network of shaded sidewalks and streets is
meant to encourage walking, while an elevated light rail and subterranean
personal pods will whisk denizens in and out of the city. Masdar’s energy will
stem from a large photovoltaic plant, working in tandem with wind turbines and
waste-to-energy plants. Water will be kept plentiful by a solar powered
desalination plant. The surrounding wall will soften the hot, southerly desert
winds and hush the noise from the neighboring international airport.
It sounds like a sleek, modernist marvel, yet it’s easy to see this as another
of Abu Dhabi’s exotic desert jewels, an indulgent flexing of the country’s oil
fuelled monetary might. It’s a whopping project, whose basis is quite
impractical. Creating a sustainable paradise in an unsustainable environment
requires huge sums of money. When the oil and the funds run dry, will Masdar
continue to be truly self sustaining? Perhaps it will fade away, swallowed by
the desert, leaving nothing but a remnant of a utopian mirage. Yet, however
improbable the idea of Masdar may be, it does offer a subversive nod to things
to come.


Promoting Green Building Design, Construction and Operation, Sustainable Living,
Clean Technology, Renewable Energy Resources and Energy Independence