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Sun 8 Aug 2010 04:00 AM

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Second wind

The new master plan for Masdar City is long overdue.

Second wind

As master plans go, Masdar City was always larger than life. The AED80.8 billion project, with its ban on automobiles and carbon-neutral aspirations, was way ahead of its time when it was orginally announced in 2006, and almost five years later there is yet to be another development that matches it in terms of both ambition and scale.

In light of this, it is a shame that news emanating from Masdar City in the last six months has been notable only for its absence. The rumours of scale-backs have come thick and fast, while the only official news that leaks is of high-profile resignations. In terms of public relations, Masdar City has become a fortress.

For those of us outside the walls, speculation rules the day. Some say that architects are down to skeleton teams, others say that a whole new masterplan is currently under consideration in Abu Dhabi's corridors of power. Most believe that the new Masdar, whenever it is unveiled, will be quite a different animal than what was  proposed four years ago.

That has been denied by Masdar's chief executive Sultan Al-Jaber, who told Emirates News Agency last month that the carbon neutral residential project will not be scaled back. In a rare press conference, Al-Jaber said that work would continue as planned on the project. But it is not a surprise that people are starting to ask questions about Masdar. The four-year-old project has experienced significant delays. While Masdar was originally slated for completion in 2015, five years later the planned 6km2 city contains only the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Other stories have not helped, either. In July, the Masdar Institute Provost John Perkins resigned, citing personal reasons, marking the second senior resignation in as many months.

But while these setbacks are significant, they have to be put into perspective. Masdar is a huge project, as ambitious today as it was in 2006, if not more so considering the global recession. The city will eventually be home to 50,000 people, with 60,000 more commuting daily - that is without mentioning the solar farms and transport infrastructure.

Given that it was launched at a time when architects and developers were out-doing each other with ridiculous schemes, it is inevtiable that Masdar is subject to scepticism, but the project is not the same as kilometre-high towers and underwater hotels. Masdar is one of the most worthwile schemes the UAE has ever seen, and only the worst kind of naysayers would wish it anything but success.

Those behind the development would do well to remember that as they continue to allow speculation and not cold hard facts to lead the media coverage of Masdar. When they finally emerge from the fortress walls and let us all know what was going on, they might discover that they have more friends than they thought.

Orlando Crowcroft is the editor of Middle East Architech.

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Don 9 years ago

I appreciate the author's attempt to put a positive spin on things, but the Masdar reality is fairly clear to all who care to take an honest look. It was a green real estate project concocted at the peak of the UAE real estate frenzy; time has proven that its business model is no more sustainable than any of the hundreds of similiarly ill-conceived projects such as Dubailand. As for those "kilometer-high" towers (Burj Khalifa) that the author dismisses, at least they got built. Masdar City was widely advertised as being the "world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city with 1500 companies and 50,000 residents and 100% powered by self-generated renewable energy". Where does it stand today? A single institute building, a few gas stations (so much for car-free), and only one tenant (the National ran an article in March that after 4 years of trying Masdar City can only find one tenant, GE, willing to lease only 1000 m2). If that is not a total failure, what is? At least the view from the Burj is real.

Mike 9 years ago

The last poster is almost entirely correct. I know of two other tenants, PSDI, and Neutral Group