Special Reports
Architect Foster Sees Future in Green Desert City

By Lin Noueihed
January 22, 2008

DUBAI - Imagine a city of 50,000 with no cars, no carbon, no waste, a
green city of the future. Now imagine it in the Gulf desert, where summer
temperatures can hit 50 degrees and 24-hour air conditioning is a way of life.
British architect Norman Foster has his work cut out in Masdar City, a project
the Abu Dhabi government hopes will bring the United Arab Emirates' carbon
footprint down to size.

"We are involved in a number of projects in Abu Dhabi and this is without
question the most idealistic. It is probably the most idealistic project in the
world today and the most relevant to any conferences from Kyoto to Davos,"
Foster told Reuters.

"This is not about fashion, this is about survival."

The rapid economic growth of the United Arab Emirates and fellow Gulf Arab
countries flush from record oil prices comes at a time of mounting international
concern over climate change.

The UAE is among the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gas in the world
but the capital Abu Dhabi announced on Monday it would be investing $15 billion
in developing renewable and clean energy, including Masdar City, which is
scheduled to be built in seven phases from 2008 to 2018.

To do that in a desert climate is no mean task and the formidable Foster, whose
firm is behind a slew of famous designs from London's Millennium Bridge to
Berlin's rebuilt Reichstag, says he went back to basics in designing Abu Dhabi's
green city.

"This is a specific response to a place that is more climatically demanding in
terms of achieving zero carbon. It is more difficult in the desert than in
temperate environments. it would be easier in the Mediterranean or northern
Europe," he said in a telephone interview.

"But I think it is all about working with nature, working with the elements and
learning from traditional models."

Masdar will be a walled city in traditional Arab style. With no cars allowed, it
will be a compact city, with narrow, shaded streets amenable to walking, not
dissimilar to the way urban spaces were traditionally organized to shelter
shoppers and pedestrians from the harsh sun of the Middle East.

It will also feature eco-friendly transport systems to ferry people around,
including a light railway, unusual in a part of the world where public transport
is minimal and people rely heavily on big cars.

Rather than spreading out buildings, which is common in Gulf Arab countries that
have plenty of empty desert to work with, Masdar will go for density not sprawl.
It will draw its power from solar panels in a part of the world with year-round
sunshine, will harness wind and thermal power and rely on photovoltaic farms,
all with the aim of making it self-sustaining.

"Take Venice. You don't feel any deprivation in Venice because there are no
cars. Quite the reverse. It is so attractive it is in danger from being too
popular," Foster said.

"We are talking about the technology to do more with less."


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