ABU DHABI: New ‘green city’ for environmentally damaged country


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Until now, Abu Dhabi has been known as the quiet powerhouse behind its flashier neighbor, Dubai, bankrolling record-breaking skyscrapers and fantastical island resorts intended to make the United Arab Emirates synonymous with luxury, wealth and success.

But now Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is looking to set a different kind of example. The Masdar development project, due to be completed in 2013, aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city.


Nawal Al Hosany, associate director for sustainability at Masdar, told Babylon & Beyond that the project is ‘leading by example and is already being approached by other developers and government entities within Abu Dhabi for advice on how to be more sustainable.’

‘Masdar is acting as a regional catalyst for sustainability,’ he added.

But the Emirates have a long way to go. The World Wildlife Fund has singled out the tiny oil- and gas-rich country for having the largest environmental footprint per capita in the world.

Inexpensive gas coupled with residents’ taste for big cars and houses -- not to mention the amount of energy needed to run an indoor ski slope in scorching desert temperatures –– have contributed to pushing the UAE’s environmental footprint up to 11.9 global hectares per person, more than five times the global average of 2.2.

But the Emirati government is determined to clean up the country’s image, and in true UAE style, no expense will be spared. Clocking in with a healthy $22-billion price tag, Masdar is to house approximately 1,500 clean-tech companies and 40,000 residents, and support 50,000 commuters.

In addition to new technology, the design draws on traditional Arab and Islamic spatial principles to create a natural cooling effect and require less air conditioning. Narrow streets with cantilevered facades are to help maximize shading and reduce glare in order to provide cooler ambient temperatures. These architectural details combined with strategic green space and a renewable-energy-powered public transportation system are intended to minimize energy demand and pollution.

Critics have pointed out that although the project may help stimulate green-technology development, it does nothing to tackle the consumption culture at the heart of the UAE’s environmental woes.


Gerard Evenden of the London-based Fosters and Partners architecture firm, which designed Masdar, said the city was envisioned as a living laboratory from the outset.

‘[Our next challenge] is to use the lessons [learned] from this new city and look at how they may be applied to retrofit existing cities and thus lower energy consumption,’ he said.

-- Eliana Maakaroun in Abu Dhabi

Upper image: A digital mockup of a public space in the Masdar sustainable-city project in Abu Dhabi.

Lower image: A rendering of the Masdar project. Credit: