Masdar: Sustainable Model or High-End Ghetto?


Masdar under construction: From slideshow by Duncan Chard for the New York Times

The New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff notes that many were dubious about Masdar when it was announced, writing that "the project conjured both a walled medieval fortress and an upgraded version of the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland." But as people begin to move in, he calls it both "more daring and more noxious."


From the Times' multimedia graphic, showing what is built or under construction.

Ouroussoff describes how architect Norman Foster studied traditional islamic planning and ancient construction practices.

He began with a meticulous study of old Arab settlements, including the ancient citadel of Aleppo in Syria and the mud-brick apartment towers of Shibam in Yemen, which date from the 16th century. "The point," he said in an interview in New York, "was to go back and understand the fundamentals," how these communities had been made livable in a region where the air can feel as hot as 150 degrees.

But in the end, Ouroussoff is worried that it is a high-end ghetto.

Ever since the notion that thoughtful planning could improve the lot of humankind died out, sometime in the 1970s, both the megarich and the educated middle classes have increasingly found solace by walling themselves off inside a variety of mini-utopias.

This has involved not only the proliferation of suburban gated communities, but also the transformation of city centers in places like Paris and New York into playgrounds for tourists and the rich. Masdar is the culmination of this trend: a self-sufficient society, lifted on a pedestal and outside the reach of most of the world's citizens.

More in the New York Times
More on Masdar:
Masdar, Abu Dhabi: Dubious No More
Ecocities of Tomorrow: Can Foster + Partners' Masdar City in U.A.E be Truly Sustainable?
Model Ecopolis Called Masdar

Tags: Architects