It Ain’t Easy Being Green, Especially at City Scale

Masdar was supposed to be Utopia. Celebrated starchitect Norman Foster would preside over the design of the world’s first “Zero Carbon City” that would rise out of one of the most inhospitable environments in the world: the middle of the Arabian desert, near Abu Dhabi.

That project kicked off in 2006, and a decade later, things have taken a slightly more realistic approach in order to avoid become the world’s greenest ghost town. Foster + Partners is no longer at the helm, having been replaced by Boston-based CBT Architects. According to FastCo Design:

Although it is being billed as the “next step in the evolution of Masdar City,” phase two marks a decided shift away from Foster’s original plan, toward something more attainable. You may notice a subtle change in terminology: Once touted as the first city to zero out on carbon emissions, Masdar is now being described as “low-carbon.” When I speak with [CBT principal] Varanasi, he initially glosses over the change in plans, maintaining that the overall vision of building a sustainable city is still the same. But when asked outright, he admits that the zero-carbon goal has been scrapped. Instead, he says, the goal of CBT’s phase two master plan is to build on Foster’s plan to create a city that is “highly sustainable and commercially viable, providing a high-quality lifestyle” for resident. […]

One of the ways CBT’s plan most strikingly diverges from earlier master plans for Masdar is the way it breaks up property. Where the old plans called for very large plots to be developed by one single entity, the phase two master plan will see lots of private lots sold off to developers who will design and build their own buildings. This is how most city plans work, and the thinking from CBT was that it shouldn’t be different just because a city is meant to be sustainable. “There is still a regular day-to-day market economy aspect to phasing in sustainability,” says Varanasi. “There are 50 blocks in phase two and maybe 50 different developers and architects building it. It’s a real city.”