For those interested in design, architecture and sustainability, Masdar City is something of a living museum: Everywhere the eye wanders, something new and intriguing makes it stop and look twice. I felt as if I could spend weeks poring over every crevice, examining each facade and gently running my fingers over whatever curious material sparked my interest.
Some have criticized Abu Dhabi's low-carbon eco-city for just this phenomenon - calling it everything from "a green Disneyland" to a playground for tourists and the rich. But the fact remains that the city is an experiment. Tailored specifically to Abu Dhabi's harsh desert climate, it is a testament to what's possible if sustainability is placed at the core of urban planning - rather than tossed in as an afterthought. Masdar is upfront about the fact that it's willing to entertain multiple approaches and technologies. As a general rule with such experimental projects, some methods work, and others don't.
It's also worth mentioning that, as one of the most oil rich nations in the world, Abu Dhabi doesn't have to do this. Its government didn't have to invest in Masdar, the nation's renewable energy company, or put its dollars behind the city in the first place. But the fact that it's doing so, and that the UAE has an integrated approach to sourcing 7 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020, speaks volumes about how proactively the emirate is addressing the reality that one day the oil will run out - a lesson large swaths of the Western world could stand to observe.
While Abu Dhabi is still flush with cash, why not invest in the infrastructure of tomorrow, rather than another standard skyscraper or posh landscaping element - of which the city has plenty? Some approaches may not be scalable, or simply don't work out at all, but those that succeed may have far-reaching impacts that stretch miles beyond this desert plot outside downtown Abu Dhabi.
Masdar expects the city to be completed by 2025, pushed back from a 2020 target set before the global economic downturn. At full build-out, the company hopes to draw 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters to the city. For an up-close look at some of Masdar City's most impressive sustainable design elements, flip through the photo essay below - featuring images snapped on a recent tour of the city during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2014.
All images by Mary Mazzoni
Ed Note: Travel expenses for the Author and TriplePundit were provided by Masdar.
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is an editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.
Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also the co-host of 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands LIVE! and the producer of 3p’s sponsored editorial series. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.