Aiming for nothing

Masdar City intends to create a sustainable urban environment, showing the world what is possible.


Attending the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Khaled Awad, director, Property Development Unit, Masdar, explains the thinking behind the Masdar City project.

What is Masdar City?

It will be a zero-carbon and zero- waste city, built near Abu Dhabi, designed by Norman Foster and Partners, which will be the most environmentally-friendly city in the world.

The aim is to create a sustainable urban environment to show the world what is possible. It will be run almost entirely on renewable energy sources, such as solar power, wind turbines and maybe geothermal energy.

We are having a groundbreaking ceremony next month and it should be finished by 2013.

How will Masdar City achieve zero-waste and zero-carbon output?

We decided to carbon-cut from three things; the material, the transportation and the energy.

All the energy will be renewable and all the material used will be carbon accounted for. So we can either send positive energy back to the grid to offset the carbon or create plantations and other things on site to reduce the carbon.

The basic idea of the city is that you develop all cities like this across the world; the planet will not be affected. At the same time it will offer residents the highest quality of life.

How many people will be living in the city?

In total there will be 50,000 people living there at first, but this could rise to 90,000.

The infrastructure is based on encouraging people to walk but there will be a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system, which will link every point in the city.

People will come to the car park and then use the PRT system to get around. It is a small, compact, electrically-powered passenger vehicle which can be automated like a horizontal elevator.

People will use a light rail system to get to the city and then they will use this environmentally-friendly transport to get around.

What construction techniques are being used in Masdar City?

We will be relying a lot on off-site fabrication. We will be building a lot of the city outside the area and then bringing it in pre-fabricated.

We will also be focusing a lot on recycling construction waste.

A minimum of 90% of construction waste should be recycled.

We are targeting 98%, but I think it is possible for other constructors to recycle at least 90%, although they will have to make many changes.

Have tenders been invited for the project?

Not as yet. We are not following a traditional model of contractors and developers.

We have not completely finished our contractors' strategy, but we have realised that with an innovative project like this it cannot be planned in traditional way.

Do you think other developers will follow the lead of Masdar City in using sustainable techniques?

We have $2 trillion worth of developments planned in the region and some of it is green building.

But green does not mean zero-carbon, it means energy efficient.

Masdar City is beyond green, but once developers start to get serious about reducing their carbon footprint then there are no limits to what they can achieve.

In many ways Masdar City is raising the bar too high; all developers don't need to go that far.

But what we are trying to show is that there is an opportunity to build green developments that don't emit carbon or harm the planet.

The ecological footprint of this city is very minimal, so if you build many cities like this one the planet will not be affected. Going green is a good step, but in many ways developers could go further.

But will contractors and developers lose money if they adopt green building techniques?

I think Masdar City will be a great success for attracting investment. I don't think it will be expensive to build otherwise it would not be sustainable.

Part of being sustainable is being affordable to build and to live in.

At present the UAE is leading the world by acting. You can make lots of suggestions, but when you start doing something like this you can show how it would be done.

This is a huge business opportunity for construction people to come and reshape and revamp the industry.

I think the industry has been waiting for something like this to change its reputation.

It has been a very aggressive, competitive industry in the past. This is a chance to reposition construction and to create a new business model which is looking after the planet.

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