Perhaps I haven’t been paying attention, but I don’t recall the front page of the Sunday Times featuring three-column stories that often, and I certainly don’t remember the last time a three-column story was a review of a piece of architecture. Soft news day? Or is the Times beginning to understand the critical role our built environment will play in the future of our planet and our species? Whatever the reason, I was delighted to see the new Masdar City development receive this much attention. Ourosoff has a strong piece on the Foster & Partners plan for this new city in Abu Dhabi. I largely agree with his assessment that, while a fairly stunning example of modern, sustainable architecture, Masdar does not, and could not possibly, represent a solution to the serious problems we face. Ourosoff’s focus is not on sustainability, per se, but on the cultural implications of Masdar which, he says,
reflects the gated-community mentality that has been spreading like a cancer around the globe for decades. Its utopian purity, and its isolation from the life of the real city next door, are grounded in the belief — accepted by most people today, it seems — that the only way to create a truly harmonious community, green or otherwise, is to cut it off from the world at large.
This is a strong point, no doubt. But I would have liked a touch more emphasis on the environmental impact of the notion that we can build our way out of the hole we’ve dug ourselves. A “city” (it’s really a town, by my count) that houses 90,000 souls for one of the wealthiest countries on the planet does not provide a model for reducing the environmental impact of 6 to 9 billion people living mostly in mega-cities of 15 million+.
The promise of Masdar lies not in new city planning, but in it’s emphasis on fairly simple, passive design strategies and careful attention to local climate to reduce it’s environmental impact. Foster, as Ourosoff nicely points out, has studied the manner in which people have occupied this hot, arid region for centuries and utilized the most basic lessons in his contemporary idiom. A shame that more celebrity architects are not sensitive to these issues.
Being the Times, they have also put together a phenomenal graphic: