Masdar eco-city

Posted on March, 01 2012


Zero-carbon eco-city sprouting in the desert

In the desert outside Abu Dhabi, construction of a new city is underway. Masdar will be a zero-carbon, zero-waste, and car-free ecological model city of 50,000 inhabitants and 1,500 green companies. The project has drawn up a plan of action together with BioRegional with the goal of becoming a One Planet Community.

Keywords: One Planet Community, eco city, car-free, renewables, zero-waste

Masdar is an entirely new city, built from scratch in the desert, 17 km outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (see also Tianjin). UAE is putting up the basic capital for the $19 billion project, which is designed by the British architectural firm Foster & Partners, and being built by the Mubadala Development Company with a completion date of 2020-25.

The goal is to establish a centre for green technology – here the new Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) will be built. Masdar is also planned to become the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Natural cooling and traditional design
Masdar means "the source" in Arabic. Traditional Arabic architecture and design have been a guiding principle for the project. The city is laid out as a square surrounded by a wall. The built environment will be dense in order to provide shade, and angled towards the sun in a traditional manner. The buildings will not be more than five storeys high and will be surrounded by a labyrinth of squares and narrow streets. Commuting in the car-free city is designed in three levels: a light rail system underground, the ground level for pedestrians, and a personal rapid transit system at the top.

In a country where a lot of energy is expended on air-conditioning, Masdar will be unique for its system of natural cooling. This will be achieved by a number of measures: a design which offers a lot of shade, a city wall to protect against the desert wind, wind towers on roofs to create natural air-conditioning, and fountains. Additional cooling will be provided by solar energy. The city will get all of its energy from local renewable sources: a solar power station, solar panels, a wind power plant, geothermal energy, and the world's largest hydrogen power plant. The water management will be environmentally friendly by means of a solar-powered desalination plant and 80% wastewater recycling. Waste going to a landfill is intended to be reduced to zero through a system of recycling, composting, and incineration for energy.

Interesting and controversial
Much has been written about Masdar, and several countries in the region have expressed interest in similar projects. It has received the support of BioRegional and WWF through their collaboration surrounding the principles of One Planet Living (see also Mata de Sesimbra, Sonoma, and Sutton). But it has also received criticism, e.g. a luxury project of the rich, financed by oil dollars. New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff has called it "the ultimate gated community".

Masdar City,

“Masdar, UAE: A community applying the One Planet principles”, One Planet Communities, BioRegional,

“Masdar: Natural cooling of a modern desert city”, Sustainable Cities,

Nicolai Ouroussoff, "In Arabian Desert, a Sustainable City Rises", New York Times, September 25 2010,

John Vidal, “Reaching new heights”, The Guardian, January 30 2008,

A.K. Streeter, “Model Ecopolis Called Masdar”, Treehugger, January 21 2008,

“Masdar City”, Wikipedia,

Key data are retrieved from the UN Demographic Yearbook 2011,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

Proposed masterplan of Masdar city
© Masdar
Map Masdar
© Masdar