Open Skies: The Middle East's radical green designs

10 June 2018

Open Skies: July 2018

This is the stuff of sci-fi. Terracotta walls punched with tiny square windows curve sinuously around paths, and a hedgehog-shaped building curls up against the heat. There are giant wind towers, open plazas that funnel into miniscule walkways, and seemingly random gusts of wind that can blow an unprepared visitor off course.

Amidst this surreal landscape, Chris Wan crouches on the floor, beaming. “You feel this?” he gestures, patting the stone animatedly. “It’s 40 degrees outside. But this is not burning.”

This is Masdar City, an urban dreamscape in Abu Dhabi brought (partly) to life over the last 12 years by Masdar, a subsidiary of state-owned Mubadala Development Company. Created in order to both diversify beyond oil and become a leader in renewable and clean tech, Wan is the head of city design management for the sustainable real estate section of the firm. He is demonstrating how the effects of radiant heat can be counteracted not using any complex technology, but a few simple measures that have existed in the UAE since it was a cluster of tribal communities: the use of shade, of wind, and of sunlight.

Since 2006, the renewable energy company has separated into three business units including Masdar Clean Energy, Masdar City, and Masdar Capital, and topped off by  Khalifa University of Science and Technology, whose current active projects include developing solar cells that can be used on spacecraft, and a new kind of evaporator for water desalination.

In the city itself is a range of corporates – Siemens Middle East is based there, as is General Electric and Mitsubishi – and it also acts as the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a 158-member community whose mission is to “support countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future.” Buildings are backed up by local and international accreditations. Siemens Middle East is certified with LEED, the most widely used green building rating system in the world: in its first year of operation, the office celebrated saving 63 per cent and  52 per cent of energy and water consumption respectively, compared to a standard Abu Dhabi office building.

Read the full article in Open Skies Magazine