Masdar City: Setting a benchmark

Masdar City: Setting a benchmark

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With the principle of sustainability deeply rooted into each if its aspects, Masdar City in UAE is one of the world’s finest examples of a smart city

Situated in the midst of the rising sand dunes of UAE, Masdar City is one of the world’s finest examples of a smart city. Built in tune with its surroundings, like a modern Arabian city, it is an emerging global hub for renewable energy and clean technologies. It is a community where cutting-edge cleantech research, pilot projects, building materials and technology testing, and construction of some of the world’s most sustainable buildings is currently going on.

Masdar City is a low-carbon, renewable energy-powered city where the first phase that has been built is designed to use half the power of other such buildings, less than half the water and extensively uses recycled materials. Power for Masdar City comes through a combination of sources, including photovoltaics, concentrated solar power and the Abu Dhabi grid, while geothermal sources are being piloted for cooling. Energy consumption is reduced through a range of passive and active technologies, including smart appliances, metres and grids, building management systems and building design and orientation. Sophisticated, state-of-the-art conservation processes and reuse systems will reduce water consumption, and provide irrigation for landscaping and crop production in the future. While waste will be processed, recycled and composted, transportation within the city will primarily rely on electric buses, electric passenger cars and other clean-transportation solutions, with the design of the city allowing individuals to live and work without the need for a personal vehicle.

Current status

The construction work for the project began in February 2008. Two years later, in October 2010, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology moved from temporary facilities in Abu Dhabi to its permanent campus in Masdar City. To be completed in stages, Phase 1 will include the Masdar headquarters building, which also will house the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); a second delivery of buildings form the Masdar Institute campus; the 10,000 sqm Courtyard Building, which will be the city’s first commercial building, and other infrastructure. The remaining phases will be completed through 2025. The phasing of construction is planned on a neighbourhood scale, such that finished sections will contain all necessary services and amenities, and will not be impacted by ongoing construction elsewhere. At full build out, the city will host hundreds of businesses and will be able to accommodate up to 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters.

Guiding principles

Inspired by the architecture and urban planning of traditional Arab cities, Masdar City incorporates narrow streets; the shading of windows, exterior walls and walkways; courtyards and wind towers; vegetation, and — fundamentally — a walkable, pedestrian-focused city. The design provides the highest quality living and working environment with the lowest possible carbon footprint and includes a northeast- southwest orientation of the city. This maximises shade to city streets and buildings and makes best use of the cooling night breeze. ‘Green finger’ parks running through the city not only capture and direct cool breeze into the heart of the city but also reduce solar heat gain in the middle of the city and provide cool pleasant oases throughout the built-up areas.

Carefully planned landscape and water features help in reducing ambient temperatures while enhancing the quality of the street. Careful placement of city infrastructure and utilities means that buildings are much closer together than in most modern cities, helping to shade the streets, as well as other buildings — the result is cooler streets and lower cooling loads for buildings. The placement of residential, recreational, civic, leisure, retail, commercial and light industrial areas across the master plan, along with the public transportation networks, ensures that the city is a pleasant and convenient place to live and work.

Completed in the first phase, a cluster of six buildings of the Masdar Institute serve as a model of sustainability, which are designed to use 54% less potable water and have less than half the cooling demand of the UAE average. As much as 30% of its power demand is met by a 1-MW rooftop PV array that not only shades the buildings, but also overhangs to provide shading to the streets below. The buildings and surrounding infrastructure feature grey-water, storm-water and condensate harvesting; domestic hot water is provided by roof-mounted evacuated tube solar collectors; fresh air intakes are located at the shaded street level, and the latest low-energy lighting specifications are being used.

G-power all the way

Masdar City is a complex system of systems where design, construction, operation and governance require huge quantities of diverse data types. A majority of data relates to the spatial aspects of city assets or describes some characteristic of an asset. Geospatial technology provides the basis of the city’s information management infrastructure and is used to provide data: repository, discovery, integration, analysis and visualisation services – to colleagues and other information systems.

Starting from the city’s masterplan to design, construction through to operational stages, geospatial technology is playing an integral role in facilitating interdisciplinary and inter-project coordination. Masdar needs to ensure that data is treated as an asset and geospatial technologies are used to ensure that maximum ROI is extracted from investment in data collection/production.

Besides using geospatial technology extensively in the master-plan stages, the developers also use it to manage the environment of the site during the construction process. The technology is used for site logistics and to make sure that temporary works associated with the construction do not sprawl unnecessarily into the green spaces.