Sustainable Cities™

Masdar: Natural cooling of a modern desert city

Masdar, United Arab Emirates. In the desert outside Abu Dhabi, a new zero carbon city is under construction, the city of Masdar. Air-condition is often a big energy consumer in this part of the world. Therefore, natural cooling is part of the city design. This case focuses on how to design for natural cooling in a city anno 2008. The city will not be fully constructed before 2016.

Ørken, iStock 000004527064

The climate and the place of the building site are taken into consideration when designing the city of Masdar. This makes it possible to make the best latent value out of the site and generate natural renewable energy. Inhabitants in Abu Dhabi are usually consuming an extreme amount of energy on air-condition systems due to the hot summers where the temperature goes up to 40 degrees Celsius. Demand for gas rises by 35 per cent in the summer, when air conditioning reaches peak consumption. Locals drive instead of walking, as the streets are considered too hot to walk - in many cities in the region, there is no pavement around. There is an apparent need for natural cooling in Masdar. Natural cooling, referring to technologies or design features used to cool buildings without power consumption.

Part of Masdar city is going to be covered with a big solar roof, which will provide the city with solar energy but also provide the city with shade. It will also draw on traditional Arabic architecture, using wind towers to funnel air through the city as natural air conditioning. Wind towers can be made in different ways but the simple principle is that it is attached to the top of the buildings and sucks cool air in and down from the roof, pushing warmer air out. Other features of natural cooling in the city are splashing fountains in courtyards to dampen the dry heat. Like an ancient casbah, the buildings will be huddled close together on narrow streets to reduce the demand for cooling power. The city is surrounded by a wall, which will defend the city from hot desert air and from disturbances created by Abu Dhabi Airport.

Desert wind tower 20 June 2007 By árticotropical, Flickr, Creative Commons

The city is designed to encourage walking, and nearest public transport link is within a walk distance of maximum 200m. The city is car-free. Masdar's buildings will only be up to five stories, and built on narrow streets, with rooftops covered with solar generators and street-level "solar canopies" providing shade. The shaded walkways and narrow streets will create a pedestrian-friendly environment in the context of Abu Dhabi's extreme climate. The City will be constructed over seven phases and is due to be completed by 2016.


"Wind towers have been used for thousands of years in hot climates to capture airflows and draw them through dwellings." McDonough 2002:130




Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014