For sustainable city geeks the world over, there are few stories as exciting to watch unfold as Masdar, the ambitious, Foster+Partner’s designed city emerging from the desert outside Abu Dhabi which is intended to run as a carbon-neutral city. It’s a chance for leading ideas and technologies to be tested, without having to worry about the constraints of an existing city infrastructure. And of course, as concepts are translated into reality, it’s part of the goal to learn and take key lessons away from it.
This process, it transpires, is well underway: the project’s leaders recently announced that some of its plans have been curtailed, as costs are squeezed. One key change is the fact that the city was designed to be built on a raised platform above the level of the desert, allowing key infrastructure, such as transport, to be buried below the ground level of the city itself. Instead, the compromise will be for pipes and cables to be buried, which a spokesman insists is not a scaling back of their ambitions:
Dropping the podium on which the community would be built above a layer of infrastructure and settling on a plan to bury utility cables and pipes “has allowed huge savings on realising a city of the same size”, said Mark Bone-Knell, the intellectual property manager of Masdar’s property development unit. “None of the original aims of the city have been diluted.”
Buried infrastructure was, of course, one of the features that the NY Times highlighted as making the city a bit like Disneyland, with all functional and unsightly stuff buried out of sight.
But while this is helping to cut the project’s costs, from an original US$22bn, to some US$16bn now, some of its exciting features are being curtailed. One is its vision for driverless transport “pods” to ferry people around electrically underneath the city. This fairly radical approach has been chopped, although a trial of it remains at the city’s entrance.
A final change is the removal of roof-top solar cells, to focus instead on concentrated solar power–as well as geothermal options, with the discovery of water some 2.5kms underneath the city.
In order to capture such lessons in future, the city’s designers now plan to roll out new areas of the city on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis, enabling them to capture lessons from one area before moving to the next. Which begs the question of which features might be next to go; eco-city geeks will have fingers crossed that the answer is none.