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Masdar City’s Phase II and the UAE’s $22 Billion Experiment

10 September, 2017
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With the master plan for its phase 2 unveiled, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City is ready for another shot at achieving its intended goals. When it was first announced, Masdar City was supposed to be the world’s first zero-carbon footprint city. Planned by the world-renowned architect Lord Norman Foster and backed by Emirati money, Masdar City had everything it needed to set a global model for sustainable urban development. Despite all that, it fell short of achieving its goals.


Falling Short of High Expectations

When the construction of Masdar City began in 2006, it was supposed to be the world’s ecotopia, redefining many things related to sustainability and the city. However, ten years and $22 billion later, it became clear that Masdar City will never achieve its zero-footprint goal.

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

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

The zero-carbon footprint is not the only goal that Masdar City has missed. Originally planned to house 50,000 residents and 40,000 daily commuters, Masdar’s 1,000 residents make it the world’s most sustainable ghost city. The 1,000 residents who make Masdar City their home are mainly Siemens employees and students in the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology—who receive free accommodation. Putting this fact into consideration makes it clear that Masdar has failed in the very basic purpose of a city: being able to attract residents.


Reviving Masdar

In an attempt to revive the city, CBT architect’s master plan is more oriented toward the residential sector. The vision for the new phase of the city is focused on creating a pedestrian-friendly and environmentally-sustainable neighborhood with great public spaces.

In addition to the residential zones, the new phase will have a world-class research and development hub for sustainable design, energy and technology.

Kishore Varanasi, Principal and Director of Urban Design at CBT, stated: “Together with our partner Masdar City, our refreshed vision and approach is fundamentally different from standard city planning.”

“Traditional city building typically begins by looking at the organization of buildings and public spaces, but we focused instead on how we could leverage environmental and sustainable features to directly influence the organization of the master plan and public realm,” Varanasi continued.

If proven successful, this community-oriented approach can overcome the problems of the original development. The new approach will achieve the city’s new sustainability goals through passive and active sustainable design strategies and will help populate the city by making it an attractive place to live, work, study and have fun. By solving those two major setbacks, the project can again be steered in the right direction.

$22 Billion is a lot of money. Was this money better invested in greening existing cities? Probably. Did the sustainable urban development community learn a $22 billion lesson? Probably not. The only thing that is certain is the fact that Masdar City is a one-of-a-kind urban development and sustainability experiment. 

Photo credit: Masdar City architectural firm Fosters + Partners

Tags Masdar City zero carbon emissions UAE Development urban planning Environment