National Public Radio aired a piece on Masdar in Abu Dhabi, advertised as the world’s first carbon-neutral city. Click here for the NPR story. There are a lot of pretty renderings and videos to watch (to be expected), but the interesting item from the show was the developer speaking about the design principles used in the city plan. While several proposals were considered, the plan is thousands of years old. Traditional “city planning” will produce narrow streets and walkways to provide shade throughout the day and the city itself will be oriented to the northeast to avoid the most intense direct sunlight on building facades. Cars will not be allowed and a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system is being designed.
Of course this is currently just a series of renderings and animated videos, but the project is fascinating. Like the ancient cities of the Middle East, many of our historic homes here in the US were built to better take advantage of the natural environment; breezes for cooling, sunlight to illuminate the home, etc. This changed with advanced building materials, the emerging need to accommodate vehicles of all sorts and the market imperative to most efficiently use land and vertical space. With any luck, Masdar and other projects can serve to explore a return to a more natural and neutral development paradigm.