Mighty Masdar

Foster + Partners’ Gerard Evenden speaks exclusively to Middle East Architect about the new plans for Masdar City.
Mighty Masdar
By Orlando Crowcroft
Mon 18 Oct 2010 04:00 AM

Foster + Partners’ Gerard Evenden speaks exclusively to Middle East Architect about the new plans for Masdar City.

While Masdar is one of the biggest and most ambitious sustainable developments in the world, the current status of the project remains shrouded in mystery.

Critics say that the initial plans for Masdar to be a zero-carbon, zero-waste mega-city have been watered down, while the Masdar Institute has been plagued with resignations.

In an exclusive interview with Middle East Architect, Foster + Partners senior partner Gerard Evenden sets the record straight.

Can you give us a brief rundown of Foster + Partners’ role in the Masdar project?

Foster + Partners has been involved in the project since 2007 and has also designed the Masdar Institute, which was due to welcome its first residents in September 2010.

Can you explain some of the key initiatives that are incorporated into your designs for Masdar City?

The masterplan has been designed from the outset to be highly flexible, in order to anticipate and incorporate emergent technologies, as well as to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the first phases of the project. This flexibility has allowed for exploration into, for example, off-site power generation and a transport strategy that links into the wider Abu Dhabi network.

What has been the biggest challenge for you as designers of this project?

The biggest challenge is to create a sustainable city that is an attractive place in which to live and work. If Masdar or any sustainable initiative does not result in a great place to be, if it isn’t a city that you really want to live in or visit, if it does not lift the spirits, then it is not fulfilling an important part of its function.

What is the priority when designing a green city in the Middle East?

Recognising and strengthening the culture of a place – its history, traditions and identity – is essential to the success of any project. Inspired by the architecture and urban planning of traditional Arab cities, Masdar City incorporates shaded walkways and colonnades; courtyards and wind towers; vegetation and, with a maximum distance of 200 metres to the nearest rapid transport links, it is a highly walkable city. In the extreme climate of Abu Dhabi, particular attention must be paid to water management as the super saline ground water makes desalination energy intensive.

What have you learned about the development of green cities from working with Masdar? Is there anything you would do differently?

It is important to note that Masdar represents the beginning of an ongoing process. As the city is realised over the coming months and years, there will be hundreds of design iterations and only when all the data is gathered and evaluated holistically, will we have a clear vision for a globally relevant sustainable future.

It has been widely reported that the final deadline for Masdar has been pushed back and the development may never reach the size originally envisioned. Is this true?

The original vision for the initiative remains intact; central to that vision is the concept of testing, evaluating and adapting to new information. Our objective continues to be the creation of a unique, sustainable city that is commercially viable and can serve as a ‘greenprint’ for future developments in the UAE and on a global scale. The construction work at Masdar City continues and the Masdar Institute was due to welcome its first residents in September this year. Further mixed-use phases of Masdar City are now being prepared for imminent start on site.

What changes have been made to your original concept – i.e. where have the cut backs been made – and why were these necessary?

The masterplan has been designed from the outset to be highly flexible, in order to anticipate and incorporate emergent technologies, as well as to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the first phases of the project. The vision of creating a unique, sustainable city powered by renewable energy yet commercially viable and affordable to live and work in remains unchanged.

Do you think there will ever come a day when Abu Dhabi’s green energy industry is sufficiently advanced that it will be able to export technology to other Arab states?

Some of the experience gained from the Masdar City project is already influencing the wider city of Abu Dhabi and the emirate as a whole, such as the valuable transfer of knowledge to aid the development of the locally based ‘Estidama’ environmental rating system (similar to LEED).

What about to the rest of the world?

Masdar can not be replicated exactly as its design is a unique response to its location. It is a testing ground for ideas and as such, it is highly experimental. Masdar demonstrates the potential for significant energy reduction and there are certainly lessons that can be applied globally. We very much hope that by example it will encourage other bold initiatives around the world.

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