Masdar Institute campus by Foster + Partners


Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners have completed the first of a cluster of buildings entirely powered by solar energy at Masdar City, a sustainable urban quarter in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The Masdar Institute, a facility devoted to sustainable research, is the first of four buildings planned for the site, and will generate more solar energy than it consumes.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The building features a perforated façade made of glass-reinforced concrete coloured with local sand and detailed with patterns commonly found in traditional Islamic architecture.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The development borrows from traditional Arabian urban design, with shaded courtyards and narrow, pedestrian streets.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

Announced in 2007, the project was initially billed as the world's first "zero carbon, zero waste" city, but plans have been scaled back since then. See our story on the announcement of the project.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

A solar field within the masterplan provides energy for the building and feeds back what is left to the Abu Dhabi grid.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The following information is from the architects:

Official opening of the Masdar Institute campus, first solar powered building at Masdar City

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs officially inaugurated the Masdar Institute today, at which the architect Lord Foster was present. The Masdar Institute, devoted to researching sustainability, is the first building to be fully operational within Masdar City.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The masterplan, by Foster + Partners, incorporates lessons which have evolved over centuries of traditional Arabian architecture. The Masdar Institute is the first building of its kind to be powered entirely by renewable solar energy. It will be used as a pilot test bed for the sustainable technologies that will be explored for implementation in future Masdar City buildings. The post graduate students are Masdar City’s first resident community.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

A 10 megawatt solar field within the masterplan site provides 60% more energy than is consumed by the Masdar Institute, the remaining energy is fed back to the Abu Dhabi grid. The campus, which consists of a main building, a knowledge centre and students’ quarters, will use significantly less energy and water than average buildings in the UAE.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

In particular, the Institute and its facilities use 54 percent less potable water, 51 percent less electricity and are fully powered by solar energy. These reductions are based on comparisons to UAE standard baselines for buildings of similar size and specifications. Around 30 percent of the campus’s energy will be covered by solar panels on the roof, with 75 percent of hot water also being heated by the sun.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The Institute demonstrates the sustainable principles underpinning the overall masterplan. The buildings have self-shading facades and are orientated to provide maximum shade as well as sheltering adjacent buildings and the pedestrian streets below. Over 5,000 square metres of roof mounted photovoltaic installations provide power and additional shading at street level.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

Windows in the residential buildings are protected by a contemporary reinterpretation of mashrabiya, a type of latticed projecting oriel window, constructed with sustainably developed, glass-reinforced concrete, coloured with local sand to integrate with its desert context and to minimise maintenance. The perforations for light and shade are based on the patterns found in the traditional architecture of Islam.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The laboratories are unusually flexible for change with ‘plug and play’ services to encourage interdisciplinary research. Horizontal and vertical fins and brise soleil shade the laboratories. These are highly insulated by facades of inflatable cushions, which remain cool to the touch under the most intense desert sun.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

Cooling air currents are channelled through the public spaces using a contemporary interpretation of the region’s traditional windtowers. The public spaces are further cooled by green landscaping and water to provide evaporative cooling. Thermal camera tests on-site by Fosters’ research team have already confirmed substantial drops in radiant or ‘felt’ temperatures on campus compared with current practice in central Abu Dhabi.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

The laboratories and residential accommodation are supported by a variety of social spaces, including a gymnasium, canteen, café, knowledge centre, majlis – or meeting place – and landscaped areas that extend the civic realm and help to create a new destination within the city. One, two and three-bedroom apartments are housed in low-rise, high-density blocks, which act as a social counterpoint to the educational laboratory environment.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

This building is the first of four planned phases that will bring the eventual student population to 600-800. Four residential blocks surround a central laboratory and the Knowledge Centre, the first in a series of additional campus buildings, which will include a mosque, conference hall and sports complex. The second phase is due to start on site by the end of the year to include further laboratories and apartments. The Masdar Institute is accessed by 10 personal rapid transit (PRT) cars that are being run as a pilot project from the City perimeter to the undercroft below the building.

This project signals Abu Dhabi’s commitment to creating an international centre to pioneer sustainable technologies within an environment which is itself carbon neutral.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners

Lord Foster, said:
“Many have dreamed of a utopian project that would be solar powered. Today’s official opening of the initial stage of the Masdar Institute campus at Masdar City is a first realisation of that quest. Its student community is already active, living and working in their quarters. This community, independent of any power grid, develops a surplus of 60 percent of its own energy needs, processes its waste water on-site which is recycled and pioneers many energy saving concepts. It is a bold experiment which will change and evolve over time – already it houses twelve separate research projects with potential world-wide applications.”

  • James

    There might be a bit too much going on there.

    I like the materiality.
    I like the screens.
    I don't like the curves.

    If you take a couple of those different shots, it's hard to tell they are part of the same building.

    • kim

      The curvature is for solar protection for the windows…The average temp is 40 degrees C…Air con is not a solution in Masdar…
      Jamal, read about Masdar before shooting.

      • Jamal Nashawati

        I have lived there in the Summer, its over 50 degrees celicius, they never declare that officialy. reread what i wrote, UAE is dusty , Hot and moisture
        they use AC 24/7 for almost 9months of the year. Try to live there Kim!

    • S Jay

      Screens are great. They work well with the silver of the cladding. I read they are made from palmwood, a product from coconut trees.

  • Jamal Nashawati

    Foster & Partners have a great reputation, I would expect something more creative (new blood) daring. Newer the less I respect that they honored the following:
    1. Local colours (sandy touch)
    2. Mashrabiya & Wind Towers (Natural ventilation)
    3. Solar Energy (almost no polution).
    Jamal Nashawati, Urbanist Univ. dipl. eng. arch.

  • The mixture of cultural design and sleek curves and lines makes this a very good building for me as well as it being sustainable!


  • EMT

    I think the building shape is the most unimportant part in this project. curves or not. its about a revolutionary energy concept and the supporting materiality of the buildings. Please don't turn it down on shapes. Its an experiment how parts of cities could work in future. for that thumps up.

    • angry catalan

      Cities are about energy but they are also about a hundred other things. No point in spending less energy if the city itself isn't worth living – that would be a city that doesn't deserve any energy at all, renewable or not. But, despite the absolutely appalling elevations, these courtyards and streets look nice.

      I would also question whether it is sustainable to build a city in the desert where nobody would be living otherwise, but I guess this would have been built anyway so it's better this way…

  • i lke it! great graphic play on the differnt panals! havent seen that in such a quality for a while!

  • Isolated I think the scheme is ok but when you compare it to Fosters original renders for Masdar something gets lost, no?

    • Manuel

      I think that chapmaniac is completely right – I just had a look at the original design. I think that reality should "always" be better that the previous renderings, otherwise the project is a failure or just pure merchandising.

  • MIKE


  • ali

    Those renderings you mention weren't done for the Masdar Institute, they were for the Masdar masterplan concept. A completely different part of the city. The original images for the Institute are actually very comparable if you take the time to research it properly.

  • Gerard

    The curvatures are appealing and the screens create a personal space cponcept and shade as well. These are not new concepts in Middle eastern design, just look at any old Mosque and market area.

    Remember the temp is 40+ much of the year. Whatever one does it rarely gets cool and the winds are ghastly ( shamaal ). Good on the city for trying solar and trying to innovate but it is still prototype. Some of the coolest buildings I have been in were old solid mud type structures with lots of cool wind flow and shade.
    The new buildings of the Arab nations mostly built on petrodollars look to the west for too much inspiration rather than looking at their rich heratige.

    Think of the money this place cost. Once the pertro wave is gone who is going to bankroll this kind of grandeur. Think of the future and look at the greatness of the Arab worlds past. But full marks for the balls for trying.

  • design21

    No theorizing, just a question: Does anyone know exactly what the large scale (seemingly metal) screen material is or who the manufacturer is in the 4th and 6th photos from the top?

  • johnny

    What is going on at Fosters, this is extremely ugly. What is the point in making a campus sustainable when that is only one part of architecture, beauty is another aspect; currently absent.