Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic of the London-based Financial Times, has been to Abu Dhabi to see the "zero-carbon metropolis" dreamed up by Foster & Partners, and he has been half won over.
Masdar, the eco-city, is a long way from making good on many of its claims. You get to Masdar by making a 10-mile, gasoline-powered drive from Abu Dhabi's city center—not a good start for a development that's supposed to represent a zero-carbon future.
Once you leave your car, you discover that Masdar's "Personal Rapid Transport" system—"little electric cars that whizz silently about underground to the destination you have tapped into a touchscreen"—are, according to Heathcote, in short supply. Only ten such vehicles are in service, far short of the 1,300 that have been envisioned.
Masdar is a long way from accommodating the planned 50,000 residents, yet Heathcote finds much to praise: "The streets are tight and shady, students sit languidly outside a cafe despite the fierce midday sun, the architeture is delicate and diverse, adopting local archetypes, pierced screens and timber gates, while water trickles away in the background. It is, unlike most of the rest of the city's outdoor space, pleasant."
Heathcote points out various things that don't work well, but he finds many things to admire, including exquisite pavements, "a tasselation of Islamic motifs cast in concrete that create a seemingly endless variety of patterns."
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