Sustainable Masdar City is a breath of fresh air

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Ambitious project outside Abu Dhabi is inspiring new sustainable innovations

Located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is a city that's not simply a new place to live, but a new place to think. A city where you won't smell smoke from nearby factory chimney stacks, you won't see inconceivably high skyscrapers and you won't hear cars honking and passing by at 100mph. What you will find however, is a habitation that works with nature - not against it.

Its name is Masdar City. The metropolis is a flagship for a low carbon and sustainable lifestyle and has aspirations to become the most sustainable city on Earth. Looking down from above, you'll see a cubed shaped city, but down on street level, you'll find narrowly designed paths no longer than 70 metres which are crafted between terracotta walls of traditional Arabic patterns. These streets provide shade and shut out a strong breeze, reducing temperatures by 20°C Celsius from the surrounding desert.

Driverless electric cars hum quietly in a basement level beneath the feet of pedestrians. Without the need for tracks, the cars are guided by GPS and have the route and speed predetermined - the kind of opportunity that is only possible to a city when built from scratch.

Designed primarily by British architects Fosters + Partners and available to be visited by the public as of now, production of Masdar City began in 2006, with the first buildings being completed around 2010. Slowly but surely, the city is expanding and growing to a planned six square miles and is expected to be completed around 2025. The entire project costs approximately US$18bn and the city hopes to eventually house 90,000 people. It will eventually become headquarters for both Siemens and the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Their respective buildings having been completed, but with employees expected to move in either this year or 2015.

The city is powered by 87,777 solar panels, taking up 22 hectares (or 35 football pitches) that was once simply shifting desert sands. The solar plant is the largest in the Middle East, which incidentally produces more energy than Masdar actually needs, sending the excess energy to Abu Dhabi's power grid.

Close by to the solar panels, a prototype nicknamed Beam Down Project exists as the first and only on our planet. Mirrors beam sunlight up to a tower with its own encompassing mirrors, which in turn shoots down the rays that eventually heats up the water that will drive a giant steam turbine.

Impossible to miss inside the city centre is a 45 metre tall wind tower that works as a giant air-conditioning system. A throwback to a traditional Arabic design which was a common sight in every town, the tower sucks air from above using louvers and pushes down a cool breeze throughout the streets of Masdar, while generators simultaneously emit a fine mist.

Leaving the tap running and exiting the house with the light on are things of the past in Masdar, as movement sensors regulate household energy, effectively cutting usage by 51 per cent for electricity and 55 per cent for water. Additional aspects include walls that are designed with cushions of air to limit heat entering or exciting and systems that can recycle 80 per cent of water systems, the remaining being used to irrigate flora amongst the city.

A Turbulent Path

For all its lust and longing to be the poster child of sustainable living spaces, Masdar still has its doubters. Many have taken Masdar's dreams and desires with a pinch of salt, smiling knowingly when completion targets have been moved further and further back, 2015 turning into 2025 and possibly beyond.

An ambitious project is all well and good, but critics request for the real mission to be bringing sustainability to the rest of oil dependent United Arab Emirates and to cities across the entire world to better control climate change. And then there's the fact that the majority of Masdar's residents are the students and staff of the city's own university, named the Masdar Institute, and that the entire population, buildings and developments are but a fraction of what was planned in the early stages, as hundreds more businesses, parks, schools and mosques are still awaiting construction.

However, regardless of not all visions becoming reality, the point remains that Masdar is increasing awareness of sustainability and the means to assist our planet Earth. Companies such as Neuffer are working tirelessly to manufacture a range of windows with state-of-the-art insulation, likewise with Clorox advancing product packaging and chemically reduced cleaning items. If anything, Masdar City has started an awareness shift that could evolve into a transformation that will benefit all our senses for many generations to come.

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