Masdar City, when it was first conceived a decade ago, was intended to revolutionise thinking about cities and the built environment.
Now the world’s first planned sustainable city – the marquee project of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) plan to diversify the economy from fossil fuels – could well be the world’s first green ghost town.
As of this year – when Masdar was originally scheduled for completion – managers have given up on the original goal of building the world’s first planned zero-carbon city.
Masdar City is nowhere close to zeroing out its greenhouse gas emissions now, even at a fraction of its planned footprint. And it will not reach that goal even if the development ever gets fully built, the authorities admitted.
When Masdar City began, in 2006, the project was touted as a model for a green mixed-use urban landscape: a global hub for the cleantech industry, with 50,000 residents and 40,000 commuters.
Foster + Partners designed a car-free city scape, with Jetson-style driverless electric cars shuttling passengers between buildings incorporating built-in shades and kitted out with smart technologies to resist the scorching desert heat, and keep cooling costs down.
Ten years on, however, only a fraction of the town has been built – less than 5% of the original six square km “greenprint”, as Wan called it. The completion date has been pushed back to 2030.
The core of Masdar City is in place, anchored by the large square-ish building that is the Middle East headquarters of Siemens. A 45-metre Teflon-coated wind tower helps channel cooling breezes down a shaded street equipped with a grocery store, bank, post office, a canteen, and a couple of coffee shops.
The United Nations moved into the other major building, the shimmering steel headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) last year.
Irena chose Abu Dhabi as its base, after Masdar promised a state-of-the-art sustainable building. The six-storey headquarters uses only one-third of the energy of comparable office buildings in Abu Dhabi – thanks to air-tight insulation and high-efficiency elevators. The design rejected overhead lamps, to encourage use of natural lighting, and called for solar water heaters on the roof.
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