Foster + Partners is at it again with their design for Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the world’s first zero-carbon and zero-waste city. The new 6 million square meter walled sustainable development Masdar was driven by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company and will contain their new Headquarters along with a new university devoted to new ideas for energy production. Additional planning incorporates a variety of special economic zones and a center for innovation. We’ve seen sustainable structures from Foster before, from his Green Library in Berlin to the proposed Entertainment Center in Kazakhstan, but this takes Foster’s green initiatives to a whole new scale.

Foster states, “The environmental ambitions of the Masdar Initiative – zero carbon and waste free – are a world first. They have provided us with a challenging design brief that promises to question conventional urban wisdom at a fundamental level. Masdar promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future.”

To remain zero-carbon within its walls, the city will be entirely car free. Carefully planned public transportation will ensure that none of the city’s inhabitants will have to walk more than 200 meters before meeting some part of the transportation link. Included in the transportation system will be a network of shaded walkways and narrow streets, creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere for those who prefer to travel by foot. All of the transportation system is offset with the inclusion of personalized rapid transport, ensuring rapid transit within the city limits. Outside of the walls, the development of the city was strategically sited to link to Abu Dhabi’s principal transport infrastructure, the center hub of Abu Dhabi, and the international airport via the existing road infrastructure and new public rail routes.

Along with the carefully planned intersection of transportation is the conscientious incorporation of wind, photovoltaic farms, research fields, and plantations, allowing for the Masdar to be entirely self-sustaining.

Even the development phase of Masdar has been made sustainable through a two-step phasing process, the first of which is dependent on the development of a large photovoltaic power plant which will later become the site for the second of the city’s phases, encouraging urban growth while avoiding low density sprawl.

+ Foster + Partners


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  1. rojkcdkk November 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my website =). We could have a link exchange contract between us!

  2. livingdaylight February 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    It strikes me odd that this is still called and referred to as “Utopia” as in the title… even though it’s being done right here and NOW!

    It’s great to see and inevitable… the trend will just get stronger and more widely manifest now.

    I wonder whether Norman Foster has heard of Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project?
    and indeed theZeitgeistmovement for that matter. Jacque’s ambition and vision goes beyond architectural design, to encompass social change by addressing ALL of its aspects and characteristics by invoking a full paradigm shift to enable this transformation, not just for some, but for all.

  3. Jose Jaramillo December 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Beautiful Proyect

    Congratulations….keep doing the good job


  4. James adma June 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    if you consider proposed population and cost of project m2, easily you conclude that this is not a city but a very luxury and costly walling village. This is just a large shopping center. Zero waste is not practical, sustainability allows for waste specially agriculture waste however this city does not produce its own food. I think calling it city is just a marketing act. Judging from released pictures it is easy to conclude that you will feel like living in a mega shopping center.

  5. Said Mansi May 16, 2010 at 6:37 am

    It,s really fantastic idea and i,am sure that it,ll be true. I,am german/arabic architect and i believe in such as future projects. I,am dreaming to share the work and carry out it with the team there!!
    Said Mansi

  6. rex February 2, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Any idea who will want to live in Masdar- is it being created for Emiratis or ex-pats? Will the population of 47,000 be self selected?
    Will the residents be prepared to leave their private cars outside the walls and use communal transport?

  7. georgef747 September 8, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Foster are just making money out of their reputation,
    – or they have not done a thorough Business Case,
    – or they have not done a thorough Due Diligence,
    – or they have glossed/politiciced the cultural needs,
    – and they have ignored (not the technology), the current/future climatic changes
    – and they have passed over the requirements of the natural Fauna and Habitat of the region.

    Let\’s start at the last point and work upward…..
    1. A walled city will attract rats, vermin, fleas, and all other nasty co-inhabitants. Live there and you will see. No you will not be able to keep them out by walls. SOLUTION: Build an oasis. Provide Water AND Solar at the same time. The water will protect the solar farm – Palm trees grow in two years………..The vermin will be content to live in the sand under the moisture and shade of the palms. Then PLANT your City outlines. These can expand outward as the City grows.
    2. The fall off for carbon fuels will be dramatic – within the next five years. No City, however well financed by sponsors can be self sustaining without a sufficient tax and capital injection into its Government. Ignore the Service Industries developing in the Emirates. I still see no contingency for this, other than self-sustainability for the City itself. Technology is the answer. Power is abundant, water could be abundant, Silica (humanity\’s building block) is abundant, labour is also there.
    If we are to believe the science, our climate will become more humid. Great news for the Desert regions of this world, but no contingency planning?
    Don\’t forget the lesson never learned throughout history. Communications, but not electromagnetic – all sorts of negative connatations. Light, light and light.
    3. Let\’s not be pedantic or pessimistic, just pragmatic. The 50,000 odd people who will initially occupy the City will be the imported labour at lower cost bracket than the indigenous population. Certainly for the first 20 years. Of course they will be shoved out when the per capita income of the indigenous population falls with the loss of income resultant from the fall in Oil and Services industries – and it will fail.
    4. Economic history tells us that less than 5% will make it, the remainder are relegated to political benevolence or malevolence. So it will be with the new City unless very carefull Due Diligence is applied. Build, create an everlasting monument, develop a technological wonder of the world in the form of a self-sustaining City. And then what?
    Due Diligence requires a vision as well as a good look at history and the Business Case. War, Sand, Dust, Dates, camels and a very well educated upper and middle class, with a virtually free working class, are the cultural cornerstones of the Emirates. Try to build technology into this amalgam with a NEW city structure, and you have lost before you start.
    5. The Foster Business Case by definition is based upon the TimeFrame to build the City, profit, investment, Goverment confidence, their reputation and of course the unmanageable TLC\’s.
    I can step through the Top Level industries needed, but they have already done the same. I will only look briefly at the TLC\’s, which, unless supported by Service Contracts, will expire exceptionally after five years.
    The City will require at least 5 years to become self-sustaining.
    – Who will maintainthe roads and traffic loads? Rail and Air transport will not provide sufficient capacity.
    – Who will maintain the Telecommunications?
    – Who will maintain and assure the Water and Power supply
    – The buildings,
    – The integrity of the sewage, pipeworks,
    – The ecology,
    – Expasion plans,
    – Integration,
    – Survivability,
    – Health and schooling,
    – Logistics,
    – you name it!

    Bottom Line:
    No City can be built greefield because of the simple Geopolitic! A City can be built technology self-sustaining but unless very solid governance is inbuilt (which requires a great deal of effort from the Prime), the City will very quickly become a province, area or district, and will lose its self-sustainability to due payments which because of its quodos, will start paying for the rest of the Emirates population.
    Answer – build more, faster and under the right circumstances.

    George Frost

  8. Will August 20, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    China is already doing this with the Dongtan project. It is on an island, just a short ferry ride from Shanghai. I read a great series of articles, including an interview and video clips at

  9. tandy June 5, 2008 at 8:37 am

    its damn amazing. i\’am loving it seems like it will b the best place on earth but is it secured as it is completely ecofriendly is that safe to invest in this sought of properties where the security is not enough, hmmm…still have to wait till we get complete info.

  10. Rachel James February 27, 2008 at 11:13 am

    I truly am at awe at this project. This is a tremendous step into the future and into living green. This city will help the world advance in many ways. The only concerns I have about this project is the “no car” rule. Im not sure I would want to depend on the government to supply all of my transportation. The thought of walking everywhere you have to go won’t be so popular to a woman in labor or the elderly. I also am a little concerned about how geometrically correct this city is. It seems to me that the government will except a perfect city…and this could cause problems for the citizens. I would like to see the city more pure, natural, and colorful; instead of so exact and plain. The city is a great idea and I hope to possibly move there oneday. The thought of living in a walled city is also a little disturbing. This just gives the government more power over the inhabitants in the city.

  11. Yasmin C February 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I like the way Norman Foster works but…lets keep in mind this is a walled project, the intention of producing for consumption in its surrounding land is a good point yet we need solutions in a larger scale in order to develop a sustainable city (and by larger scale
    I mean using what we have instead of working from scratch). I wonder how many of us can afford to live in there and be part of that ecological system. Haven’t we got enough cities already that something can still be done with what we have instead of an isolated self-sustained community? I’m an architect in the third world already challenge by the consequences of wrong decisions and the lack of proper urban planning. I hope this won’t become one.

  12. Lee February 21, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Energy is the key. And like money, it takes energy to make energy. The processing of the silicon to make the photovoltaic arrays requires energy at every stage. Every gram of concrete and every ounce of metal, glass and other materials require large amounts of energy to extract, refine, mold and assemble.

    If the building, maintaining and eventual rebuilding of a city like this can be accomplished with truly renewable energy, the concept can go on as long as the sun shines. If there is an energy deficit in this scenario requiring infusions of nonrenewable energy, the concept is a hoax.

  13. Alex C. Camprubi February 14, 2008 at 7:56 am

    To add in besides what Simon Wright wrote, Masdar is one attempt to reach practical ways to develop future cities, It is admirable that an Architect can bring up this idea into ground.
    Nature is responding to its ecological footprint, Investments are being lost because of this, and nations are responding also, adding themselves to the Kyoto Protocol. We can mention Dongtan in Shanghai, another serious step into the search of Zero Carbon emitions.
    The word today is searching for ways to solve problems, including urban, as it did with Brasilia or Chandigarh we have learned from the experience and step up.
    I hope we can discuss soon the experience of this city been built and how we can learn from this to develop applications for other locations worldwide.

  14. Ronin_id February 11, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Although I’m very intrigued by the possibilities of a fully sustainable city and defiantly think it can be a foot forward toward creating a better understanding of what it may take to bring to fruition, reality is still a factor. It’s hard enough as it is to fully realize a sustainable product into today’s mass market, it will be quite a challenge to make it happen with something the scale of a city. I see it more as a test bed, maybe if this city truly becomes a reality
    It will help toward integrating some of these strategies into already established cities. The open real-estate of the world is quickly dwindling and there is a mess load of city infrastructures already in place that can use some rethinking. Theoretically it seems easier to make this concept work when constructing from the ground up, yet most of the negative impact created on our environment is primarily coming from cities that already exist, this is the greater challenge. All in all it’s a great thought and a positive direction but like any green idea, let’s make it happen and avoid ending up with another watered down green idea that only maintains 2% of its original intent!

  15. Konstantinos Tolias February 8, 2008 at 10:42 am

    A green step to sustainable development! … and who would have thought starting from Abu Dabhi! That is not only a great foundation-model for sustainable cities but probably a milestone to sustainable way of living.. I wish every country gets the idea as soon as possible!.. Great great step from Foster’s -it’s never too late for making up old mistakes like gla etc.- (my Sustainable Design Blog mostly in Greek)..

  16. Joge Albella January 22, 2008 at 9:19 am

    The Foster´s dream in Abu Dabhi is not a utopia, is just a question of money and time, and as long as the Prince Zayed al-Nahayn is in the power, habing brillant ideas, (and being polite with the americans).

    150 years ago nobody thought that is possible to drive trains by electricity, or nobody thought to recycle paper.

    Long live Abu Dabhi! and congratulations to Foster + Partners!

  17. Theo January 7, 2008 at 7:08 am

    I would have expected a better integration with the surrounding desert nature and not so geometrically pure as it looks like.

  18. wesley bruce December 15, 2007 at 2:11 am

    This is a very middle eastern desert city. Narrow streets, Shade cloths, small courtyards, no large open spaces except the rooftops. This all very old. It ensures natural shade to keep thing cool and prevents hot dry winds carrying dust from getting in. If the shade cloths and roof tops are solar cells and the air-conditioning is passive then they will meet the targets. As for transport and waste control the Epcot centre Walt Disney built decades ago has that solved. Tunnels under the streets with electric vehicles hauling in supplies and hauling off the waste to recycling centre. If your building from scratch its easy.
    The real challenge is retrofit ; that’s where it gets hard every where. UAE should be commended for this response to peak oil and greenhouse.
    As an aside, most forget that Kuwait was the country that put the most money into solar research and sustainable desert cities in the 1980’s but Saddam destroyed the research facility when he invaded. Kuwait hasn’t been able to recover the lead it once had.

  19. Kate November 4, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Interview with Lord Norman Foster released in the UK’s Sunday Times Magazine this weekend:

  20. KLaus Kaiser August 2, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I would like to have gladly info. for my company for an address

    Klaus Kaiser

  21. Mike July 10, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Why does it have to be walled?

  22. Kevin June 18, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    The rectilinear geometry is irrelevant. The idea of taking integrated design thought to the scale of a city is significant. If anything, the rectilinear quality lends itself to comparison with many of Corb’s cities. It allows, in my mind. the design to be more archetypal. If only every city could be a new city we’d be in business.

  23. Simon Wright May 16, 2007 at 7:30 am

    I think many readers have missed the point of this venture. The very act of attempting something like this will be reward enough in terms of scientific & technological advancement. Of course future cities the world over won’t be 4 walled with a monorail, but nonetheless the technologies developed in order to make this city “work” will be a great step in the right direction for a greener world. Top notch effort from the Emirate I say, despite Jay Vaughan’s comments about the middle east’s millitant leanings.

  24. Motorcycle Guy May 15, 2007 at 8:39 am

    This design looks interesting, but I don’t know about leaving all transportation up to the government.

  25. hemant purohit May 14, 2007 at 5:46 am

    after all … why aren’t there any swans in the pool and peacocks on the rooftops?

  26. hemant purohit May 14, 2007 at 5:43 am

    i guess more people are falling for the romanticised imagery … the beautiful scene of a utopian world at peace and harmony with mother earth ,….

    don’t get me wrong …. i favour the project with all my heart and (mind) …. but i guess the images kinda portray a delicate micro setting .. instead of a rugged urban plan which should show its performance in order to be sustainable ….

    monorail is clear add on .. it doesn’t fit in (forget the context) but also the the traffic requirements ……

    i stand by this idea of sustainability ……. .. but i guess many are getting decieved .. lured by the wonderful simplicity of a beautiful place …

    i guess its a good change (visual relief) which is making it more fantastic …different from all the formally complex designs which we come across these days

  27. Marie May 11, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    This is lovely. The work involved in the planning and the knowledge of the architect must be beyond awe. However, it just looks like another big mall to me. I understand that the walls might help with sandstorms, however, it also helps keep people in a box. I’m not fond of that idea. And, as incredible an idea as this project might be, personally, I’d rather see money and brain power spent on developing green living solutions for the average working person. And I don’t like the brown/grey look at all. Someone above mentioned the idea of planting different types of crops such as they did in Cuba. This makes sense. And….see that woman in the left of the second rendering wearing that wide brimmed hat? Who wears a hat like that? And I can envision those little kids falling into the cute little ponds in the “mall”…..I’m getting carried away, but really, pretty or not, sometimes people go a bit over the edge and miss the point. We need green solutions that cope with what we’ve already built. And we need them now.

  28. EC May 11, 2007 at 11:25 am

    The brief is for a zero carbon, zero waste city. I don’t think that’s achievable by solely the inhabitants without the infrastructure that will allow the modern city to operate in a more sustainable way. The renderings are misleading in that while they give a sense of how it might look (useful if to secure interest and investors) and how it address the human scale (no cars – hence has to be walkable), they don’t explain how the zero waste will be achieved. What’s important will be at the masterplanning level – how the various systems are designed and managed- power, transportation, resources usage/recycling..etc
    And what’s wrong with monorail… Ogdenville, North Haverbrook, and Brockway all had one.. and Springfield 😛
    The personalised rapid transport system are more like scaled down trams-
    Too bad the city doesn’t look like it’s very bicycle friendly

  29. Austin May 11, 2007 at 10:52 am

    The monorail, while asymbolic of things natural, would certainly help meet community transportation needs and keep things green(er). Yeah, it’s Borg-like, but the Borg chose cubes as spaceships precisely because of the efficiency of the cube. Maybe certain edges/boundaries could be more “organically” formed to convey a less institutional feel.

  30. Chris May 11, 2007 at 7:24 am

    About those walls….have you ever seen photos of the sand storms in that part of the world?

  31. Chris May 11, 2007 at 6:48 am

    The entire concept of planned rectilinear cities originated not too far from Abu Dhabi, as is shown by the ancient city of Mohenjodaro. (sp?) This was laid out in a ‘modern’ grid pattern, and even had an integral sewage system. As well, another old city showing the grid pattern was recently discovered underwater somewhere near the coast of India close to the Indus River. The geological structure under the city underwent subduction ( it sank ) and now the city is under many feet/ meters of water.
    One estimate had the sunken city being 9,000 years old, older than Jericho, and much older than Ur in ancient Sumeria. (now in Iraq)
    Although the people in these cities obviously must have known how to construct right angles using the 3,4,5 formula, they hadn’t developed a (permanent) writing system so we will never know much about them, not even what language they spoke.
    So, from that perspective, Masdar will be carrying on a very ancient heritage.

  32. Alex May 11, 2007 at 3:33 am

    This would be crazy if it happens!

  33. Richie May 11, 2007 at 1:30 am

    Is this a city… or a small development ? It seems too small to even be called a town, let alone a city. Cities are BIG. Cities also allow one to travel through their expanses very quickly. Walking is not fast. From what I can see, this design makes little sense.

  34. obvious May 11, 2007 at 12:04 am

    is it halal?

  35. Justinian May 10, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    The rectilinear concept not only calls out a ‘squareness,’ which while not unnatural, hearkens to the city plans of the Romans, for good or ill. Certainly, those settlements were built with long-term outcomes in mind, even when they were symbols of the conquest of nature or people.

  36. andrew May 10, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    give me a break ..its got a freakin monorail..!

  37. IPMan May 10, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    @CH One could argue that the rectangular shape is the most efficient way of building we know. Far more so than so called ‘blobby’ architecture for example. In this way buildings are erected fastest and with a minimum of material wastage. One could now say that building rectangular buildings is thus the ‘greenest way of building. Things might change one day but for the time being I guess we’re stuck with rectangular volumes.

  38. Jay Vaughan May 10, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    The idea and concept of course resonate among the green and among the monied, as any oasis in the desert might do .. we all long for a structurally sound solution to the demands of the human digestive and regenerative process, after all, and have done so for centuries .. but the issue I have with such a proposal is that there is very little pimp of the making, and thus: not as educative an effort as a truly green movement might produce. Thus, I find this proposal lacking.

    A truly green city of this order of magnitude wouldn’t require engineering and technical, productive skills, beyond that of the participants in the picture above. In other words, show me a city that can be built by children and their immediate family, and I will show you a truly Green Solution. Beyond that, it is all just a prototype, and I predict immediately that structures as detailed above will become a realm for the millitant-industrial seeking to capitalize on known assets and investment, more so than a Green Solution set might provide …

  39. Miguel Marcos May 10, 2007 at 8:12 am


  40. Malcolm Thomson May 10, 2007 at 1:58 am

    The concept is very attractive. But having lived in Abu Dhabi for five years I am concerned that there now seems to be an inclination here to ‘catch up’ with the neighbouring Emirate, Dubai, in terms of mega-projects. It is to be hoped that Abu Dhabi can avoid the pitfalls of the hubristic over-development.

  41. EC May 9, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    err.. probably get a completely different vision… should have proofread

  42. EC May 9, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    The way it looks and the way it performs can be quite independent. Get another architect with the same level of ecological research and you would probably a complete different vision, but one that’d be just as sustainable.

  43. Sean May 9, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    I’m pleased that they’re finally starting to stumble onto something similar to the ecocity, and it is a good idea, but I wonder, what is the density like? If it’s just four stories, it’s okay, but not the best. Perhaps they designed it that way to allow future development of buildings?

    I do like that they try to eliminate the sprawl. From what I saw though, they should have tried to incorporate more shrubs and plants native to the environment, despite the fact that it is a desert environment, with little water.

    Other than that though, it’s quite brilliant…

    Hm, another thing they could possibly consider is for the fields and farms outside of the city walls, instead of monoculture, they should use diculture*, so designing the fields to have more than one crop that supports other types of crops, and are relatively native, or as much as possible, to the region, to mimic the natural environment. This happened in Cuba, because the farmers needed to get as much money as possible, with little overhead costs, and it increased their production tenfold, and their resistance to diseases and weather fluctuation. If one crop failed, the others would go on.

    *I’m not sure if “diculture” is the correct term. It’s been awhile since I heard about it.

  44. Drew May 9, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    There’s an interesting book that touches on this same idea, called Adaptive Significance,

    Very interesting idea, I hope it works.

  45. chris May 9, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I agree with CH.. The shading devices and boxed out shape lend an undeniably “borg”-like quality to the development. The renderings are beautiful, but why must something so ‘green’ be so gray?

  46. CH May 9, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Why does it need to be so rectalinear? Its a superb intention and amazing scale of project, but curious why it does not model itself more from the forms within the natural environment?

  47. IPMan May 9, 2007 at 6:17 am

    Le Corbusier eat your heart out!

    I so hope this kind of design will work some day in the future.

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