Sustainability is most definitely a hot topic, especially in the field of architecture. Imagine a series of massive cities in the middle of the desert. You may ask, “How is that sustainable?” A more rational question could not have been asked. Building skyscrapers and super highways in an area with extreme heat and little water seems like a bad idea, and, without a wealth of oil, would likely be impossible to sustain. Enter Masdar City.
The story goes (this is strictly the “dumb guy” version of the story), that someone at some point during the growth and expansion of the UAE (or Abu Dhabi or Dubai or something) had enough foresight to recognize that the country only has a finite amount of oil. Someday (maybe in 10 years, maybe in 100 years) the oil will run out. So, in preparation for that day, Masdar City (Designed by Foster+Partners) was created as a case study in Sustainable city design for a world that no longer relies on oil. I don’t know how accurate this back-story is, nor do I care. Just stop worrying so much about it and look at these pictures:
As a visitor who is interested in sustainability and in architecture, this was a real treat to visit. The trip begins by parking your car along the periphery of the city and entering a self-driving electric vehicle terminal.
This was the highlight of the visit. It is such a novel, Disneyland-style idea that makes visiting Masdar City worthwhile. Since the city is only part built, the vehicles make only one stop. However, you can imagine how this idea will become more useful as the size of the development increases. It even features some really interesting way-finding/typography tricks to use Arabic and English cleverly.
This terminal also features a model of a portion of the development, highlighting how little of this ambitious project is actually completed.
The above photo of the model is depicting the library of the Masdar Institute, which is the only built portion of the city.
There are quite a few interesting looking buildings, but none are more eye-catching than the library.
Massive, curved glulams hold up a metal screen that allows diffused light to enter the library (above). Inside is a DNA-strand-looking, concrete staircase which I was not allowed to go up… (below).
Out back there were four large vans sitting idle with the engines running and no one inside. Sustainability!
While all of the architecture is very contemporary, it takes cues from the local vernacular by utilizing design elements such as geometric screens, day lighting, and windcatchers. Below you can see the dorms for the institute:
And a similar, but somehow different view of the dorms:
Contrary to the majority of the photos you see when Google image searching Masdar City, the entire project is not a curvy mess. There are some areas that utilize simple geometries:
Also, not everything is a warm earth tone. It can occasionally be a cold looking place.
The project is littered with interesting details. You have to hunt for them, but they are there.
The idea behind this place is great. In the winter there is a gentle breeze that flows between the buildings and makes for a really pleasant walking experience. In the summer, I have been lead to believe that Masdar City, like the rest of this country, is unbearably hot. No amount of clever wind directing or thermal insulation can prevent you from being cooked alive by the desert sun. While I am being negative I should mention that there are some questionable design elements too.
For example, allowing water drainage to run along the paths sounds perfectly harmless. But, when the color of the drain matches the rest of the path perfectly, you can imagine how one might accidentally step backwards into it while trying to capture the perfect shot and nearly fall on one’s fat american ass.
I haven’t seen to many positive things written about Masdar City. I also haven’t seen too many negative things written about Masdar City. Most importantly, I am too lazy to research anything about Masdar City. So I will tell you the three things I know:
1- Masdar City looks interesting.
2-Masdar City is supposed to be sustainable.
3-I’ve never seen anything quite like Masdar City in my entire life.
Just like most things I blog about, if you are in the area you should definitely check out Masdar City.
Or just wait for the rest of my UAE blog posts. If you do that you won’t have to suffer through an unbearable plane flight.