angle-left The world's first sustainable city is in the middle of a desert
SMART CITIES SUSTAINABILITY TUNGSTENO

The world's first sustainable city is in the middle of a desert

The project of the great ecological metropolis seems to come true in the most hostile place. The Abu Dhabi desert is home to the city of Masdar, a green oasis, still under construction, designed around clean technologies and renewable energy, with the pedestrian as the protagonist.

The sustainable oasis of Magdar City is closer to being an urban laboratory in which to test different renewable energies and clean technologies. Credit: Foster + Partners.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

Imagine a place where buildings consume up to 40% less energy and water, where public spaces are cooled naturally, and where no inhabitant is more than 200 metres away from public transport. That place, entirely designed around clean technologies and renewable energies, actually exists. Called Masdar City, it is located in Abu Dhabi and is the first city in the world designed to be totally ecological and sustainable.

Today, more than 50% of the world's population lives in cities. It is estimated that by 2050 this percentage will rise to 70%, according to the United Nations. In this context, cities all over the world are trying to lead the global revolution of intelligent cities. Addressing population growth while conserving natural resources is one of the main challenges.

Sustainability in the middle of the desert

Masdar City, which covers an area of six square kilometres in the United Arab Emirates, was created with the desire to achieve this and become home to between 45,000 and 50,000 people. Although it lies in the middle of a desert, it enjoys a strategic location, being five minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport, 20 minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi and 40 minutes from Dubai. It is intended to house 1,500 companies and 60,000 workers who would commute to Masdar every day.

The project, announced in 2006 and designed by the prestigious architectural firm Foster and Partners, has been financed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Masdar, a renewable energy company in Abu Dhabi. Construction of the city, which has not yet been completed, began in 2008. Since then, it has attracted more than 400 foreign companies and firms such as General Electric, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Schneider Electric and Siemens.

In fact, the latter company has built one of the most intelligent buildings on the planet there —its headquarters— whose design was conceived as a box within another box. The inner part has an airtight façade designed to reduce thermal conductivity. The external structure features aluminium cladding that minimizes the effects of the sun and a system of blades that rise and fall to adapt to the direction of the solar rays. In addition, the building achieves a 63% savings in energy consumption and a 52% reduction in water consumption compared to a standard office building.

Being in one of the regions with the largest oil reserves, Masdar City seeks not to rely on oil and use renewable energy such as solar. Credit: LAVA.

Solar energy to displace oil

The rest of the buildings in Masdar have also been designed to be sustainable and ecologically efficient. Buildings consume up to 40% less energy and water, and the energy they use comes from their own photovoltaic plant and a system of solar panels placed on rooftops throughout the city. The aim is to stop relying on oil and ensure that this energy is also used for personal consumption and transport as well as for waste treatment and even the desalination of water. The goal is for all the water used in Masdar to come from the sea, the rain and the treatment of wastewater. Offices and homes are equipped with intelligent devices to reduce the water consumption of users.

Weather conditions have also been taken into account. Masdar is in the middle of a desert where temperatures exceed 50 degrees in summer. In addition to a perimeter wall designed to keep strong winds and sandstorms in check, its streets are narrow and oriented so to take advantage of air currents. Public spaces can also be cooled naturally. The city has a large tower that redirects air from the top of buildings to pedestrian areas. In this way, it channels fresh air currents along the city streets.

Masdar City has been designed for pedestrian movement and to avoid the use of cars for which it also has an automated and electric transport system. Credit: Masdar.

A city designed for pedestrians

All these measures seek to promote pedestrian movement and to avoid the use of cars. It is expected that there will be three ways of moving around the city. Personal Rapid Transit is a kind of individual electric cabin that will run throughout the city, have 85 stations and be operational 24 hours a day. Light Rail Transport is an electric train that will have a direct connection to Abu Dhabi airport and will have six stations. Finally, the Rapid Freight Transport will also be electric and automated and will be used for the transport of goods and food products.

Although the initial plan was to complete the construction of Masdar by 2016, problems with the budget have delayed this date until between 2020 and 2025. Still, a quarter of the city is already in operation and, according to its creators, people do live and work there. Tourist visits have been allowed since 2013. Masdar is not an ordinary city, but rather an urban laboratory in which to test different renewable energies and clean technologies, and it may house some of the best solutions for an oil-free future. 

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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