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Foster’s Masdar City More Than a Mirage?

July 31, 2007

by Dianna Dilworth

Foster + Partners is designing the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city in Abu Dhabi. Named Masdar City, which means “the source,” the 1,483-acre project will include commercial and manufacturing space dedicated to developing ecofriendly products, housing, a university, and the headquarters for Future Energy Company, which is spearheading the initiative.

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Images: Courtesy Foster + Partners
Foster + Partners is designing the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city in Abu Dhabi. Named Masdar City, which means “the source,” it will encompass 1,483 acres.

River Park Center
Masdar will be developed in phases centered on two plazas, including a 130-acre main square.

River Park Center
Since Masdar will be car-free, shaded paths will make walking more bearable in the region’s extreme climate.

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Although the desert might seem an unlikely location for such a large sustainable undertaking, Masdar will tread lightly on the landscape by harnessing solar power and relying on construction features that resist high temperatures, including extra shading and slab cooling. Its design is rooted in the Arabic tradition of walled cities—but Masdar’s stone-and-mud walls will be covered in photovoltaic panels capable of generating 130 megawatts. Along the site’s northern edge, the walls will be more permeable to let in breezes. Electricity will also come from photovoltaic cells integrated into rooftops and a 20-megawatt wind farm. The city will get its water from a solar-powered desalination plant.

Since Masdar will be car-free, shaded paths will make walking more bearable in the region’s extreme climate. Land surrounding the city, which is 20 miles outside the center of Abu Dhabi, will contain wind and photovoltaic farms, as well as research fields and plantations that will supply crops for the city’s biofuel factories. These fields will also help reduce waste by acting as carbon sinks to offset gases produced in the factories—and they will be irrigated with gray water drawn from the city’s water treatment plant.

Masdar will be developed in phases centered on two plazas. The first stage includes construction of a 60-megawatt photovoltaic power plant that will supply electricity for constructing the rest of the city. This will be followed by a 130-acre main square. Foster finished the initial phase of master planning this spring. The project’s engineers include E.T.A., which is overseeing the renewable-energy components; Transsolar; WSP Energy; and Flack + Kurtz. Designers estimate that it will take 10 years to build out the entire city, with structures ultimately occupying nearly half of the site. When complete, Masdar will be home to 45,000 people and attract an additional 60,500 daily commuters, who will arrive in part via a new rail line.

“The biggest issue of all is to make sure that the city is balanced and will create as much energy as it uses throughout the time it is being built,” says Gerard Evanden, senior partner in charge of the project at Foster + Partners. “The scale of the project will have the density of Venice, so it will grow gradually. Hopefully the knowledge and the technology of efficient materials will grow too.”

Some of that future knowledge will be homegrown. Masdar’s university is set to open by 2009, with 30 percent of the student population housed on site. Its students will be encouraged to participate in the development of the city while working on graduate degrees in sustainability.

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