People have just started moving into Abu Dhabi's planned eco-city Masdar, whose layout modeled on ancient Arab cities means it can withstand the region's heat while keeping its carbon footprint tiny.
Buildings like the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are elevated off the ground so that winds can pass beneath it and keep it cool. Elsewhere, vast fields of photovoltaics will provide solar energy to the city. And no cars will be allowed. All transportation will be via electric vehicles in tunnels beneath the city, which is supposed to eventually house up to 45 thousand people.
The New York Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff writes:
At Masdar, one aim was to create an alternative to the ugliness and inefficiency of the sort of development - suburban villas slathered in superficial Islamic-style décor, gargantuan air-conditioned malls - that has been eating away the fabric of Middle Eastern cities for decades.
[Architect Norman Foster] began with a meticulous study of old Arab settlements, including the ancient citadel of Aleppo in Syria and the mud-brick apartment towers of Shibam in Yemen, which date from the 16th century. "The point," he said in an interview in New York, "was to go back and understand the fundamentals," how these communities had been made livable in a region where the air can feel as hot as 150 degrees.
Among the findings his office made was that settlements were often built on high ground, not only for defensive reasons but also to take advantage of the stronger winds. Some also used tall, hollow "wind towers" to funnel air down to street level. And the narrowness of the streets - which were almost always at an angle to the sun's east-west trajectory, to maximize shade - accelerated airflow through the city.
With the help of environmental consultants, Mr. Foster's team estimated that by combining such approaches, they could make Masdar feel as much as 70 degrees cooler. In so doing, they could more than halve the amount of electricity needed to run the city. Of the power that is used, 90 percent is expected to be solar, and the rest generated by incinerating waste (which produces far less carbon than piling it up in dumps). The city itself will be treated as a kind of continuing experiment, with researchers and engineers regularly analyzing its performance, fine-tuning as they go along.
But Mr. Foster's most radical move was the way he dealt with one of the most vexing urban design challenges of the past century: what to do with the car. Not only did he close Masdar entirely to combustion-engine vehicles, he buried their replacement - his network of electric cars - underneath the city.
The gated communities of the desert are now going green.
via New York Times