Masdar City: Combining Ancient Building Techniques With New Technologies to Create a City of the Future

by Jesse Crabtree

The United Arab Emirates may elicit images of old oil for many, but now Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City seeks to change this by becoming the “world’s most sustainable eco-city.” This city of 40,000 permanent residents and 50,000 daily commuters plans to run entirely off of renewable energy. The city will house its own 10-megawatt solar field, from which it hopes to fill 20% of its energy needs. The other 80% will come from renewable sources outside the city. However, the true genius behind Masdar lies less in the renewable energy that it does use, and more in the energy that it doesn’t. With summer temperatures of 130° F, Abu Dhabi regularly spends 70% of its energy on air conditioning. So instead of hiding all of its residents indoors in air-conditioned buildings—as is the norm in Abu Dhabi—Masdar seeks to draw its residents outside, where passive building techniques will provide cool spaces.

Large overhead solar panels will shade much of the city’s public spaces and office buildings. Structures are laid out close together to ensure that outdoor walkways rarely see direct sunlight. Furthermore, some buildings, such as the Siemens headquarters, utilize “box-within-a-box” technology to create an outer façade that prevents direct sunlight from hitting the building while at the same time optimizing the amount of natural lighting in the structure. Siemens claims this technology will help to reduce energy usage from both indoor cooling and lighting by 63%—as compared with traditional office buildings in the Emirate.

In addition to shade, Masdar borrows ancient engineering techniques to produce cool windy spaces. Closely constructed buildings create wind tunnels that circulate air throughout the streets. Several public spaces will make use of these wind tunnels. In one space, a large tower will funnel wind down from up above, all the while water-cooling it. Another building utilizes a baseball cap-shaped roof that both shades the area and catches desert breezes to be circulated down below. Many buildings also sport centrally located stairs that will allow air to circulate and reduce the need for electric cooling.

Although construction of Masdar first began in 2008, the city is a long way from completion. Many of the buildings and designs mentioned above have already been built, but project leaders do not expect full completion and occupancy until 2030. Although it is a long way off, the true genius of this city is its use of ancient architecture to create passive energy saving solutions.


Anderson, Jared. “Masdar City: New Urban Energy Future and Climate Change Solution?” Breaking Energy, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.


Casey, Tina. “Energy Efficiency Hides In Plain Sight — Thank You, Ancient City Dwellers.” Clean Technica, 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.


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