Planet 4 min

Masdar, a green green oasis in the country of black gold

Imagine a city of 50,000 inhabitants, with no cars, carbon dioxide or waste… in short, an ecological city of the future. Now imagine this city in a desert in the Persian Gulf, where temperatures can reach 50°C in summer and the air-conditioning has to be switched-on all the time. This city is called Masdar, which means “source” in Arabic.
Masdar, a green green oasis in the country of black gold
Masdar, a green green oasis in the country of black gold

A good dose of imagination

This slightly crazy idea is the work of British architect Norman Foster. “We are involved in a large number of projects, and this is no doubt the most idealistic”. To carry out this project of an ecological city in a desert climate, you need a good dose of imagination and architect Norman Foster said that he went back to basics to design this ecological city.

Architecture of the desert

For this city of the future, Norman Foster found his inspiration in traditional housing in hot countries, particularly the typical dwellings of Shibam, the “Manhattan of the desert” in Yemen. The city is very compact in design, with cool, narrow streets laid out in the form of a square with walls around it to keep out the hot desert winds. Traditional Arab architecture,  terracotta dwellings inspired by the Mashrabiya, is mixed with the latest technologies: blinds that move round with the sun, installed on the cupola of the library; smart giant parasols, “corridors” running through the city for natural ventilation; laboratories and offices of concrete covered with large plastic cushions (ETFE) which reflect the sun’s rays and lessen their effects; roofs of plastic and photovoltaic panels… The techniques used to favour a “micro-climate” are installed all over the site.

Enemy No 1: heat

One of the main challenges for the architects of the city was finding smart, innovative materials allowing the energy efficiency of buildings to be improved upon in an area with a harsh climate whilst considerably reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Everything is deployed to combat the heat and make the habitat viable and pleasant with an approach to sustainable development.

Styrodur® C polystyrene foam from BASF, a strategic partner in the construction of Masdar since 2009, provides for optimum thermal insulation of buildings, irrespective of what the roofs, facades or floors may be of, which means an appreciable reduction in energy consumption.

Neopor® granules incorporating infrared absorbers and reflectors greatly reduce thermal conductivity and allow substantial insulation to be achieved.

Polyurethane makes it possible to insulate cool air intakes, ensuring maximum efficiency. Microscopic plastic capsules filled with wax are also incorporated into the plaster or concrete, absorbing excess internal heat through phase-change processes.

Sustainable construction

The holding company Masdar and Bayer MaterialScience have signed a strategic agreement in the field of sustainable construction, for the development of a programme for the construction of “eco-buildings” aimed at the construction of a prototype of such a building on the Masdar site.

This eco-building prototype in Masdar City combines energy efficiency and construction economy with leading-edge design adapted for a subtropical climate. The aim is to develop new solutions in the field of optimised-energy-consumption buildings through the use of plastics.


European-style plaza

It was the young architectural agency LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture) which won the contract in August 2009 for the design of the city centre of Masdar. “The city centre must become an emblematic landmark concentrating the attention of the whole world on concepts of sustainable technologies.”

The heart of Masdar will have a 5-star hotel, a residential block, congress centre, leisure areas, shops and businesses. And above all, a main square, the epicentre of the city, where, as in Rome or Athens, the inhabitants will be able to meet, walk and take part in the social life of the city, whilst enjoying blue skies and fresh air.

For this, people walking in the street will be protected from the sun by enormous parasols in the form of sunflowers, following the course of the sun in order to shade the vast pedestrian precinct, before closing at nightfall and releasing the heat captured during the day.

Umbrella material is a steel column with two levels of PTFE membrane with solar panels on the folding arms and hydraulic system integrated in the upper level of the mast.

A city with no petrol-driven cars, in the land of petroleum

Petrol-driven cars will be banned from Masdar City: transport will be by means of electric vehicles running on rails or on an electromagnetic levitation system, which, it is promised, will virtually allow door-to-door travel.

Driverless automatic trains running on solar energy will be taken by remote control from one station to another.

Soft modes of transport, such as walking and bicycles, will however have priority.


A 100% green city

When Masdar City is completed, it will be the first 100% green city in the world, with no carbon emissions and no waste, and will house some 50,000 people.
Built on the initiative of the government of Abu Dhabi and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who want to make it a shop window for green technologies, it should attract companies, research centres and university institutes from all over the world.

Masdar should then become a sort of laboratory, a model for the possible format of ecological cities around the world and the largest environmental research centre in the world. “Masdar is a living laboratory for testing energy efficiency and all sorts of smart buildings in extreme conditions.”

Solar energy at the heart of the project

Construction of the city, which will cover six square kilometres close to the City of Abu Dhabi, was officially inaugurated on 9 February 2008.

As Masdar is a desert city, the sun’s powerful rays in the region will be exploited to supply the city with energy. Solar energy will be collected by captors incorporated into the buildings themselves. Since keeping dwellings, shops and businesses cool is of prime importance, studies are being carried out at present to try to develop a viable mega solar power station to provide the city with air-conditioning. This power station, of 100 megawatts initially, could then be increased to 500 megawatt by the year 2020. 

Masdar will also use wind power and organic waste to provide additional energy

3/4 less energy

The city itself will be designed to minimise energy expenditure: orientation of buildings, shady areas, green spaces, force circulation of natural air … whilst the air-conditioners themselves will run directly on solar energy.

The promoters of the project assure us that consumption will be 75% lower than in a modern city of the same type.



Changes in the initial plans

PPlanned for 2015, Masdar is finally expected to be completed by 2020 or even 2025. Construction of the city over time should allow the initial plans to evolve, incorporating technological progress since the beginning of the project in 2006, together with future innovations.

The main development that has been announced is the abandonment of the energy self-sufficiency objective. The city will only consume renewable forms of energy but to achieve this it will have to purchase energy produced at other sites.


The first students and researchers have already moved in

At the moment, the first six buildings of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have been completed and the first students and researchers moved in during September 2010.

These residential buildings have a water consumption which is 54% lower and electricity consumption that is 51% lower than the average for similar buildings in the Emirates.

A few figures

Project launch: 2006
Commencement of the works: February 2008
Completion of the works: between 2020 and 2025
Surface area: 6 km2
Cost of the works: 15 billion dollars
Anticipated number of inhabitants: 50,000
Number of high-tech companies: 1,500
Key figure: 0 (zero carbon, zero waste, zero cars)


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