The growth of renewable energy technologies is improving while costs are falling and deployment is growing, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s renewable renewable energy capacity is the highest among the GCC countries. As a country with rich resource potential and strong willingness to invest, the future is indeed bright for “sustainable Abu Dhabi”. In accordance with this, Masdar is on a mission to advance the clean energy industry and it is catalyst for the emirate economic diversification and also the social returns. Their ambitious target is reflected in the world’s most sustainable eco-city called Masdar City, which successfully pioneered a “greenprint” which accommodates rapid urbanisation whilst dramatically reduces energy, water and waste.
Anthony Mallows, The Director of Masdar City Abu Dhabi, addresses exclusively to AsiaGreenBuildings about the future of Masdar City, the issues behind its construction, and how they envision to aspire other neighboring and Asian countries to follow through sustainability development.
Given its placement in the desert, the construction of Masdar City has been suspected of not being truly sustainable. How do you address this point of view?
We believe that being located in a harsh desert climate is actually conducive to sustainable building and design. To that end, Masdar City is developing a “green print” for absorbing growing urban populations while reducing energy, water and waste.
The city is home to one of the world’s largest clusters of high-performance buildings, including the award-winning LEED Platinum Siemens headquarters and the 4 Pearl-rated IRENA headquarters. All new buildings are required to meet minimum LEED Gold and 3 Pearl Estidama (the sustainable building ratings system developed specifically for UAE buildings) design and construction standards—allowing Masdar City to be as water- and energy-efficient as possible.
Masdar City is on a journey to not only build a city that is the most sustainable in the world, but is also commercially viable, and finally one in which people will want to live, learn, work and play.
Besides the geographical issue above, what other challenges did this project encounter?
There were several changes made to the master plan following the global financial crisis in 2008. It struck at the same time when the construction on Masdar City began and hence we subsequently adjusted the construction timeline to take the new market demand into consideration. Today, we have a revised schedule that reflects a more conservative growth trajectory.
Nevertheless, several major projects at Masdar City are nearing completion, while others are underway. We’re also working on the construction of our first residential property, as well as welcoming a K-12 school and university.
In addition to using sustainable building materials, what green technologies have been adopted to construct Masdar City?
A number of energy efficient technologies are incorporated including high-performance systems to have energy recovery features. However, more important to Masdar City’s overall sustainable performance is the adoption of passive green technologies. These include a careful consideration of the orientation of the buildings for wind movement and sunlight.
Although many of these technologies can easily be implemented in other regions, it is important to note that delivering success for sustainable buildings requires an integrated approach to design. This has been an on-going learning process at Masdar City.
How would Masdar City project aspire sustainability practices in emerging Asian region?
Every city faces different challenges, so when it comes to applying sustainability practises, no one size can possibly fit all. Nonetheless, Masdar City is designed to offer lessons on sustainable building and design. Some of the City’s features–can be replicated in different geographical areas and climates.
Passive design elements, for example, are a cost-effective way to design a community sustainably and cost-effectively. For instance, staircases are featured prominently throughout buildings to encourage walking and reduce energy use, while elevators are hidden—quite the opposite of what you see in conventional office buildings. The architects have designed the buildings to maximise the use of natural light as much as possible and thus decrease energy consumption.
In emerging Asian countries, many believe that sustainable buildings and infrastructure infer high cost. What is your thought on this?
As for financial limitations to the development of sustainable cities not just in Asia, but around the world, there is a perception that achieving sustainable design and infrastructure is prevented by prohibitive costs. On the contrary, we believe being cost-effective is key to genuine sustainability.
Masdar City has demonstrated that sustainability doesn’t have to cost more. High-performance buildings are cost competitive and consume dramatically less energy and water, therefore having a positive impact on an organisation’s bottom line.
How do you envision Masdar City five years from now?
I envision Masdar City setting a benchmark for other urban developments around the world, showcasing how cities of the future can accommodate rapid urbanisation while dramatically reducing the consumption of energy, water and waste. At the same time, we are proving cities can be economically viable, even as we realise that we are living in a world where we have to do more with less.
With new schools, residential apartments, retail outlets and other amenities open by then, I also see the number of people living and commuting within the city almost doubling in size.
This exclusive interview is facilitated under a Media Partnership with the upcoming EcoCity World Summit, at which Anthony Mallows is a speaker.
About Masdar City
Masdar City is a planned city project in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, initiated by Masdar – a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi. The city is designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners, relying on solar energy and other renewable energy sources. Masdar City will host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The city is designed to be a hub for cleantech companies.