Text: Alexander Rieck, Lava Architekten

05. Feb 2011

Visionary reality
Masdar Plaza – the Oasis of the Future in Abu Dhabi/UAE

There are signs everywhere: things have changed and one of the most visible signs is related to light. One of the greatest inventions of the last hundred years – the incandescent lamp – is now only available as a ‘heatball’. With the introduction of the LED, the microelectronic age has made its way into the world of architecture. This development is driven by global changes: the rapid increase in population in newly industrialized countries together with the inherent consumption of raw materials. This means a fundamental shift in parameters. Experts reckon that in the next twenty years the number of people living in cities will increase from the 3.2 billion known today by another two billion.

These dramatic changes can no longer be handled using the conventional model of a modern-day city as laid down by American colleagues. The car-friendly city as developed in the 1950s, which is still referred to as an example of good urban design to this day, is in fact passé. What are the urban developments that will be housing the people in the coming decades going to look like? How will they work? How will cities cope with the limited availability of raw materials? There are currently a number of realistic experiments underway to find a new approach to urban development and to introduce new city planning processes. One of the most spectacular examples of the last few years is without doubt the concept for Masdar in Abu Dhabi, the first urban development anywhere that has set itself the goal of being a zero carbon city. The idea stemmed from Foster and Partners in London, who came up with a functional but practically radical urban design concept. Planning started right away. It was originally planned to build the entire city on a kind of platform in order to be flexible when it came to responding to technological developments. Traffic was to be confined to underground electric vehicles. LAVA Architects, who had already been commissioned to lead the urban planning in Masdar, to design the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and Masdar Headquarters, also won the competition to design the Conference Centre, the 5-star hotel and the central Plaza. The underlying goal of all these developments to date has been that the buildings would only use as much energy as could be harvested via the photovoltaic system installed on the roof. This may be possible for your average private dwelling, but presents a problem when you are designing a hotel. In this case, it can only work if energy consumption is reduced consistently through the application of state-of-the-art technologies – and if the users are encouraged to use energy responsibly. This would mean deliberate interactive control of the environment to acquire the appropriate feedback. […]
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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 75

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