Masdar City is an experiment. A research project intended to explore ways to live in and with nature rather than exploit and conquer it; as we have been doing for the past 100 years or so since humans discovered technological innovation.

At Masdar City, technological innovation is put together with nature to utilise and enhance nature’s rhythms and improve the living environment. Humans and nature are not in contradiction, but are part of the same cycle of life.

Masdar City explores how low-tech ancient techniques can be combined with new hi-tech applications to create better places for people without creating a negative impact on nature, and as such make life better for those who live there.

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is an on-going multiple phase project, many of which are yet to be built. The existing six building were constructed in the first phase.  They include a research centre, a university, living accommodations and public spaces.   Currently the majority of individuals living in Masdar City are students.  Visitors to the City leave their personal vehicles in parking lots outside of the City limits. Self-driving vehicles are then used to shuttle people from their personal vehicles to the City Centre.  All vehicular transportation is located on the basement level, leaving the ground level for human activity unencumbered by automobiles. This smart choice allows the buildings to be positioned closer to each other to create shaded walkways that are scaled to human comfort.

Sun is the source of all energy on earth.  Masdar City uses photovoltaic (PV) systems to generate electricity.  This is a natural, renewable source that is in abundance in a desert city. Masdar seems to be supported by a massive PV array placed at a distance from the city centre. It somewhat shocking to see the scale of large swaths of land needed for PV arrays to support even a small city. While this is governed by the angle of the sun rays and exposure, it is eye opening to see firsthand the outcome that even great ideas can have a negative side.

Playing with sunny and shaded areas creates differences in temperature and pressure allowing air flow for natural ventilation. Combining an ancient technique of Air Catching Chimneys that utilize the difference in air temperature and pressure for natural ventilation with fans allows the ventilation of outdoor areas and lowers the temperature of the otherwise scorching desert air to something tolerable.

Water and outdoor landscaping is used to provide a cooling effect and create a visual interest.

Precast building facades combine a known technology (precast cement panels) with an old one which is the wood Mashrabia screens (an architectural projecting bay window enclosed with carved wood latticework) that allow shading and ventilation at the same time. The apartment buildings are constructed with precast panels that are efficient to manufacture and build.  They also contribute to the general theme of shading and ventilation while providing rich patterns that contribute to the quality of the place.

Together the effect is an oasis, both literally and figuratively. Masdar is a worthwhile experiment to explore better ways to think about future cities and to improve the quality of life for people that does not result in catastrophic environmental effects.