The past two decades have seen the emergence of several freshly conceptualised master-planned cities across the globe to attain utopian characteristics. Incorporating state-of-the-art technologies to assist the many needs of the hour, about 150 new cities have made their debut majorly in the regions of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. 

The most supreme role in this process, however, belongs to the creators who are awarded the opportunity of a lifetime- to purposefully break new grounds and pave better environments based on learnings from existing paradigms.

In 2006, Masdar renewable energy company based in the United Arab Emirates proposed the development of Masdar City, the world’s first carbon-neutral and zero-waste city project. Located seventeen kilometres east-south-east from the bright-lit city of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City was designed as a contrast from the mere extravagance of most Middle Eastern cities by incorporating traditional Arab planning principles and climate responsive design methodologies. 

The city’s six square kilometres of area and almost all of the buildings were meticulously outlined by Foster + Partners. Construction began in 2008, divided into multiple phases such that each phase could adapt to forthcoming technological advancements and be revised based on lessons learned from the execution of the preceding phases. 

The first phase is currently in progress with some occupied and functional buildings. However, due to the effects of the global financial crisis, the city that was estimated to take eight years to be operational is now expected to be completed by 2030.

A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
Masdar City: The first sustainable city - Sheet2
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city

Masdar City was envisioned to be a mixed-use sustainable development, home to about 45,000 residents who would benefit from green urban living, 60,000 daily commuters travelling in and out of the city and about 1,500 businesses that mostly specialise in environmentally friendly products. 

This high density clustered settlement was designed to provide shorter and narrower streets of no longer than 70 metres that would receive only 30-45 minutes of direct sunlight during the day. The passive solar shaded pedestrian-friendly streets were a result of closely-knit buildings of only about 4 or 5 stories height above street level, built of terracotta walls with arabesque patterns. 

Furthermore, a wind tower of 45m height and based on the traditional design was installed to suck air from above and release cooler breeze through the streets. Masdar City thus maintains temperatures of 15 to 20°C lower than that of the rest of the desert. 

Also, the raising of the entire city to a higher ground than its surroundings only contributes further to create this cooler micro-climatic oasis within the raging hot desert.

Masdar City: The first sustainable city - Sheet3
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
Masdar City: The first sustainable city - Sheet4
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
Masdar City: The first sustainable city - Sheet7
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city

The city will be powered by the 54 acres of wind and photovoltaic farms installed along its periphery, and by additional solar panels mounted on the roofs of the buildings. Another interesting feature to be adopted throughout the city is the absence of light switches and water taps, and relying instead on motion sensors to control electricity and water consumption. This technique is expected to save up to 50% of the energy and resources that would otherwise be exhausted by the inhabitants. 

Masdar City was also planned with the intent of recycling 80% of its water and to allow recurring use of greywater for crop irrigation. Along with the many sustainable schemes prepared to be adopted, research fields and plantations were envisioned to surround the city, and this proposal was set to contribute a great deal towards promoting an energy self-sufficient community. 

The first sustainable city - Sheet9
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city

Initially, transportation within and around Masdar City was designed to ban fossil-fuelled automobiles and introduce personal or public rapid transit systems that would support the cause of producing zero carbon footprint. 

However, due to high costs of installing underground infrastructure to segregate this system from pedestrian traffic, the plan was revised to allow electric and clean energy mass transit with links at intervals of 200 metres from one another. 

Personal vehicles will also be allowed but with a limitation of restricting parking lots along the city’s perimeter. These measures were laid out to encourage walking and experiencing Masdar City’s splendidly planned urban plazas and promenades. 

The first sustainable city - Sheet10
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
The first sustainable city - Sheet11
A3890- Masdar City The first sustainable city
The first sustainable city - Sheet12
A3890- The first sustainable city
The first sustainable city - Sheet13
A3890- The first sustainable city

The project has received funds from many renowned conservative organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Bioregional and Greenpeace, along with support from the US Government and the Alliance to Save Energy. The conception of Masdar City was several years in the making and its completion is expected to require several more. 

However, despite its prolonged construction, the city offers many insightful principles and innovative ideas that are worthy of being an inspiration for city planners and urbanists from across the world. Masdar City is an exemplary initiative to step foot into a sustainable and improved future living. 

Having resolved the pollution and self-sustenance component, and hence moving forward, serving sincerely to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds is what poses as the next important challenge newly evolving cities must tackle.

Tags: Masdar City, Sustainable, Sustainability City

References | Masdar City


Sri Lalitha Yeleswarapu has recently graduated as an architect and is looking to find her place and role in the field. She sees architecture as a medium to cleverly and innovatively craft a narrative that is memorable, unbiased and promises a happy ending;storylines createdthrough writing, sketches or design.