Salutation to the sun

Monday 27 Feb 2012

After four years of construction, the world's first solar powered city starts to take shape

The dream to build the first ever city which relies entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources is well underway. Construction on Masdar City in Abu Dhabi began in 2008. Within two years, the first six buildings of the city were completed and occupied.

Designed by international architecture firm Foster and Partners, the sustainable, zero-carbon, zero-waste city will eventually be six sq km with a transport system across the city running entirely underground. The first six driverless cars now connect two points - the car park and the main entry - and it has been rumoured that each car was so expensive ($300,000 each) that the intention now is to use electric cars with drivers.

A large sports building is currently under construction whilst the residential buildings are forming a quadrangle around the laboratories and the library, which are part of the completed research centre.

The research centre is magnificently designed, with only a few small lighting problems within the library. The lighting design which runs along the laminated timber beams disrupts the smooth lines of timber. It seems that there was a lack of initiative to incorporate the lighting into the beams. In addition, the local fire brigade, Civil Defence, added sprinkler piping to the ceiling. Although this is a small amendment, the architects could have foreseen this issue. However, these are only minor points; Matt Brindley from Swell Architects, who visited the site, described the beams as ‘beautiful in their own right and a warm expression of the structure close to the user on the upper level'.

As regards to the exterior parts of the project, some of the steelwork design appears somewhat clumsy. Brindley explains: "The balustrades, solar panel support structures and connectors are heavy with little or no finesse to what could have been light and airy." Yet, on the other hand, the detailing along the terracotta building is very elegantly done.

The overall buildings are of extremely high quality. Brindley adds: "The team of architects and builders have produced a fabulous result under very tight deadlines and budget constraints. One can only hope that once the Abu Dhabi government decides to allocate more funds this immense construction project will continue to such a high standard." The estimated cost of the city is between US$18.7bn and $19.8bn. Final completion is scheduled to occur between 2020 and 2025.

Elena Collins

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Urban design

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