It is described as the city of the future and the most ecological place in the world, but how is it in reality? Is this utopian vision a true revolution in urban design? Masdar City, because that’s what we’re talking about – became the last place I saw during my few days in UAE. I got there by public transport in ABU DHABI. In the close neighborhood of the SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE I found a bus stop, where I caught a direct bus to this city.
The idea of building the most autonomous and independent city, which produces its own energy, was born in 2006 on the order of the Government of the United Arab Emirates. The designer of such a brave vision was NORMAN FOSTER‘s architecture studio. As we already know, the project, which is to cost billions of dollars, will be completed at a different time than originally planned. Masdar City will have a population of 50,000 until 2030.
How does this new investment in the vicinity of the UAE capital look like? Will the city, which is created to prove the research in practice, become a friendly place for its future users?
The fact that the city is well thought out in every detail should not surprise anyone. My point of interest was the architectural ornament, which in its shape and form refers to the culture of the Middle East. I was most impressed by the orange balconies, which were waving like a meandering river in an urban tissue. This method is aimed at shading each other’s flats. In the climate in which the investment is located – it is very important. All these elements have been connected in an interesting way with modern building materials such as glass or metal, which I would call: “handsome architecture”.
An interesting architectural element is a Wind Tower located in the very centre of the investment. It is a tower that naturally uses the air mass flows. This discovery is not new, because such structures existed hundreds of years ago in Arabic cities. This object provides the right temperature by cooling the streets of the city with air. It is worth noting that Masdar City is located in a climate where temperatures can reach up to 40 °C during the year.
INCUBATOR OF DEVELOPMENT
Masdar City has to become an ideal place for business development. At this time Masdar City is home to numerous companies and research institutions. The city will be the first place on earth as a carbon-neutral. There are located international research centres on renewable energy sources. Solar panels and collectors have been installed on the roofs of the buildings in order to satisfy the energy needs of the inhabitants. A very interesting idea is to transform biological waste into biomass and recycle water. In the city there are electric cars that run without a driver, and the whole city is adapted for pedestrians, because the traffic is designed at a level below the ground floor. There are no normal light switches or sink faucet, because everything is controlled by motion sensors. Innovative technologies used in this city can be mentioned without end.
What I have observed while in Masdar City is its first phase of development. Numerous research institutes and companies are only a promising sign of investment. Their goal is to encourage the best scientists and students in the field of renewable energy research and development to come to Masdar City.
Currently Masdar City is preparing for the next phase of development. According to the strategy developed earlier, further fragments of the urban structure are to be created until 2025. In the new areas of the city, there will be residential districts equipped with numerous shops, restaurants, community centres, mosques and schools. This explains why I have not met too many residential structures in this city. The next Masdar City development plan is to be based on four key principles: identity, walkability, sustainability and replicability.
THE MORDOR IN THE DESERT
The enthusiasm for seeing one of the most famous investments of recent years, was fading away with every step I made. The route which I followed with public transport led through the old-Arabic urban structures which intertwined with the desert. The charm which this tour had, ended with the time of arrival at the place. I had a number of visualizations in my head about how this city would look like. Some of these images found their reflection in reality. However, the investment in my opinion was a “the mordor in the desert“. Nowadays Masdar City is a place surrounded by a desert, where well-known international corporations are located. During my few hours stay, I met only a few tourists, students and a group of employees of large, global companies.
The master plan of the city was designed along the north-south axis. The width of the streets and the angle of sloping of the individual facades have also been carefully thought out. The aim is to provide the best possible protection against the intense sunlight which is characteristic of this climate. Masdar City is a well-designed compact city. However, while I was there, I felt a kind of claustrophobic feeling of space surrounded by emptiness. Despite the numerous public spaces in this investment, there was no breath in them. The city seems to be closed to the surroundings. The entire project seems to be an isolated object, instead of an assumed fragment of the urban tissue.
The city is a type of career-oriented experiment. Currently, the city lacks the most important thing – society. I would agree with the statement that this is a ghost town. This is mainly due to the phased development of the project, not to the fact that people are afraid of new things. A very good decision is to build Masdar City through a strategy of development. I am convinced that the next phases of construction will significantly eliminate the mistakes made in the previous steps.
I am still surprised by the decision of the UAE government to create the most ecological place on earth – in a country which owes its development mainly to the sale of non-renewable energy sources. The city is an interesting investment, but I would not recommend it as a place to visit. I deeply believe that the next phases of development will bring changes and the investment will start to be vibrant with the everyday life of the new society.