Masdar City: “The ecotopia” that never was

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In 2006, former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, released “The Inconvenient Truth”. Gore attempted to bring greater knowledge to citizens of the world of the seismic threat of Global Warming. That same year, a pioneering project which was set to cost circa $22 billion was envisioned for Abu Dhabi. See draft of vision below.

Masdar City, a vision of the Masdar company, overseen by legendary architect Norman Foster and backed by the Government of Abu Dhabi, promised an “ecotopia” which would revolutionize the way we live as humans. Twelve years on, and we are no closer to booking flights to get there, checking the cost of travel insurance or searching for dream jobs in the 100% green city in the UAE.

The ambitious project which looked at hosting 1,500 green energy businesses with a combined workforce of 110,000 people in the first carbon-neutral city in the world would never be finished. In 2018, we should have been approaching two years of the completed project, yet Masdar City is now, instead, a shell which will take another 12 years to finish. What is even more anticlimactic is that the initial target of a zero-carbon city is now estimated to be approximately 50%.

“We are not going to try to shoehorn renewable energy into the city just to justify a definition created within a boundary,” Chris Wan, the design manager of Masdar City said.

“As of today, it’s not a net zero future,” he added. “It’s about 50%.”

What went wrong for Masdar City?

The concept of building the world’s first sustainable city was, simply, unsustainable. The global economic crash led to the project being severely delayed, yet many skeptics had questioned if the vision was too ambitious.

Masdar Incubator Building, Foster & Partners, clean tech, free economic zone, green design, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

“Nearly all of the electricity in the current phase comes from a massive 87,777-panel, 10-megawatt solar plant along with building-mounted solar panels, and demand is kept in check by an impressive array of design features that minimize the need for air conditioning despite the desert locale,” was the description of the design particulars laid out in the Smithsonian.

“The site is higher than the surrounding land to catch breezes off the Persian Gulf; the short streets are narrow and laid out to maximize shade all day long; building glass is shielded by decorative terracotta grills; and a 45-meter wind tower pulls breezes from above and pushes them through the streets to create a cooling effect. The result: temperatures that the developers claim are generally 15 degrees cooler than the desert.”

Masdar City in 2018

While Masdar City looks far removed from the picturesquely aesthetic model which was promised to us twelve years ago, there is undoubtedly a fascinating appeal for the curious mind and eager eye for a photo. A half-built ghost town tangibly crippled by the global financial crisis, the dream city now barely stands like a promising athlete struck down by an injury which robbed them of their true potential.

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A unique design with an incredible lure, the more adventurous among Abu Dhabi’s intrepid tourists may find something endearing about this unrealized dream.



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