Masdar City Launches Phase 2 Master Plan

The fascinating cleantech evolution of Masdar City continues! Pushing the limits of urban design and community building, Masdar City is pressing forward in its pioneering quest for the highest quality of life with the lowest carbon footprint.

Setting a new international precedent for sustainable urban planning, Boston-based CBT is presenting its award-winning Detailed Master Plan for Phase 2 of the “greenest city on Earth.”

Masdar City Phase 2. Credit: CBT
Masdar City Phase 2. Credit: CBT

Recognizing its “leadership in design excellence, urban design and planning,” CBT’s detailed master plan (DMP) for Phase 2 recently received the 2015 American Institute of Architects Middle East Design Award. The AIA award also lauded the plan’s innovative “seamless blending of residential, research and development clusters within a tight knit urban fabric.”

Located outside of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Masdar City is an innovative feat of urban engineering. Even in the midst of one of the harshest desert climates on Earth, Masdar City nurtures congenial collaboration and inspires visionary creativity.

Utilizing passive design strategies to optimize sustainability, this 6,700,000 square foot mixed-use project incorporates a research and development cluster, residential neighborhoods, shops and restaurants, community centers, mosques, and schools.

Developing a Market-Friendly Model for Sustainable Urbanism

Focusing on developing an easily replicable and market-friendly model for sustainable urbanism, the CBT Urban Design team further advances Masdar City’s identity as an eco-friendly, commercially viable, pedestrian-focused urban center.

Kishore Varanasi, Principal and Director of Urban Design at CBT, states, “Together with our partner Masdar City, our refreshed vision and approach is fundamentally different from standard city planning.” Varanasi explains, “Traditional city building typically begins by looking at the organization of buildings and public spaces, but we focused instead on how we could leverage environmental and sustainable features to directly influence the organization of the master plan and public realm.”

Masdar's Vibrant Streetscapes. Credit: CBT
Masdar’s Vibrant Streetscapes. Credit: CBT

Masdar City Phase 2 Detailed Master Plan

From its multi-modal transit system and vibrant streetscapes to its self-sufficient neighborhoods and resilient natural landscapes, Masdar City’s Phase 2 seeks to sustain the community’s life and energy for generations to come. Innovatively designed to nurture social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability, the Phase 2 DMP offers an entire realm of inspiration for other communities aspiring to this visionary level of urban sustainability.

As outlined in an email from CBT, the award-winning success of the Masdar City Phase 2 DMP is the result of the following components:


The key to the success of the Phase 2 DMP is its creation of a truly replicable and market-friendly model for sustainable urbanism that aligns with local regulation guidelines.

The team employed design guidelines at four different design levels – to ensure that the community achieved its sustainability goals and reflected the city’s unique character at all scales. These comprehensive design guidelines have set an example for the region.

The team’s design ideas and integrated process is applicable to other communities seeking sustainable lifestyles in harsh environments, such as the American Southwest.


The DMP creates an authentic identity for Masdar City that encompasses innovation as well as the local culture and environment.

The design and careful definition of sikkak (pedestrian pathways) and barahaat (community courtyards) throughout Phase 2 create a unique sequence of cultural and pedestrian experiences as well as a strong community identity.

The DMP creates a one-of-a-kind lookout called Gateway Hill at the entrance to the city. This iconic symbol of the city will also serve as an environmental education center, reflecting the city’s close ties to its beautiful natural surroundings.

Masdar Phase 2 DMP. Credit: CBT
Masdar Phase 2 DMP. Credit: CBT


The DMP’s approach to sustainability planning focuses on passive design, utilizing design strategies such as a fine grain urban fabric, environmental optimization and hydro-zoning to create a cool and comfortable built environment.

The DMP is designed to achieve the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s Four Pearl Community Rating as part of their Estidama sustainability program. Similar to LEED certification here in the U.S., Estidama is the sustainability initiative developed by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council to “imbue a new mindset that promotes the concept of living in harmony with our culture and environment.” (A project may earn up to five “pearls” for increasingly sustainable designs.)

A 40 percent reduction from ASHRAE energy consumption standards is achieved in the DMP.

70 percent of demolition and construction waste will be recycled.

By looking at solar, water and wind analyses in the design process at the same time, the DMP found a unique set of urban intersections that would not have been possible had the team explored each of these sustainability factors individually. Some of these intersections include:


Buildings are positioned exactly 9 meters (30 feet) from each other in order to maximize shade. As a result, the temperature can be up to 15 degrees cooler in the city than outside.

The DMP also uses natural green elements with low reflectivity to minimize ambient heat exchange and provide additional shade.

Extended roof canopies, building overhangs and balconies shade the sikkak and barahaat, providing comfortable pedestrian experiences. Shading devices and sunscreens reduce heat impacts on buildings.

75% of all hot water is to be heated by solar power.

shading provides comfortable pedestrian experiences. Credit: CBT
Shading provides comfortable pedestrian experiences. Credit: CBT


There’s a “budget” for water in Masdar City. The team’s innovative hydro-zoning strategy allocates different amounts of water to different spaces throughout Phase 2 and Masdar City, creating a rich diversity of landscape typologies from lush courtyards to desert-inspired parks. Phase 2 includes a 40 percent reduction in interior water demand.

The team selected many naturally drought-tolerant plants, including 70 percent native plant species, for the landscape. As a result of the team’s careful water usage planning and analysis only two liters of water will be consumed per square meter each day.

CBT employed high-efficiency water features to enhance the microclimate with evaporative cooling techniques. For example, they proposed a dew net collection system that collects humidity overnight and converts this to water.

In addition, 60 percent of operational waste water will be diverted from landfills.


Through very intricate and detailed engineering/design work, the team was able to create a design for the city blocks that lets wind reach every courtyard and flow through every street. Ground floor wind portals are strategically located to further the smooth flow of wind through the city.

There are linear parks (corridors of open space running through the city grid), which channel prevailing winds through the fabric of the city, creating a comfortable series of microclimates.

Creating a comfortable, diverse and attractive walking environment. Credit: CBT
Creating a comfortable, diverse and attractive walking environment. Credit: CBT


The DMP prioritizes the pedestrian with a new land use planning paradigm. Within Phase 2 the team dedicated just 20 percent of land to automobiles/streets compared to 30-35 percent in the traditional city. Much of the land gained through this approach is dedicated to creating a comfortable, diverse and attractive walking environment.

Every building has a responsibility to engage with the parks and neighborhoods surrounding them, which creates a far more interesting environment and experience for walkers and bikers.

Phase 2’s iconic sikkak and shared streets also tie into a robust multi-modal transit system that connects it to other neighborhoods and cities.


Masdar City’s complete innovation ecosystem integrates knowledge sharing and research and development to ensure that commercial tenants, students and residents are uniquely positioned to engage with the rapidly-growing renewable energy and clean technology sectors.

Leading businesses have already established cutting-edge operations focused on innovation in Masdar City. These include:

o Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
o Masdar Institute’s Technology Innovation Accelerator
o GE’s Ecomagination Centre
o The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium
o BP
o Siemens’ Middle East Headquarters (first LEED Platinum office building in the UAE)
o The International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA (first company to receive Four Pearls under Estidama, Abu Dhabi’s sustainability building program)

Phase 2 is home for:

o Masdar Solar Hub: Photovoltaic Test Centre
o Masdar Solar Hub: CPV Testing Facility
o Electric Energy Storage Solutions Hub
o Masdar City Eco-Villa Prototype
o Smart Home Energy Management System (SHEMS) for Masdar City Eco-Villa
o Masdar Institute for Science and Technology Field Station
o Feasibility of District Cooling Powered by Geothermal Energy for Masdar City

The magical evolution of Masdar City. Credit: CBT
The magical evolution of Masdar City. Credit: CBT

Forward Movement and Evolutionary Magic

CBT’s Kishore Varanasi offers a terrific conclusion: “By looking at all of the factors in the design process at the same time, rather than individually, we found something special in Masdar City’s Phase 2.”

With all this forward movement in Masdar City’s evolutionary progress, I totally agree. There is something quintessentially special in Masdar City, and CBT’s Phase 2 is a continuing expression of this magic.

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