2015 - Abu Dhabi, UAE

Masdar Institute

The Masdar Institute is the first part of the wider Masdar City masterplan to be realised and creates an educational focus for the entire programme. The Institute embodies the principles and goals of Masdar to create a prototypical and sustainable city and is the first building of its kind to be powered entirely by renewable solar energy. The design incorporates a variety of passive and active environmental strategies and will be used as a test-bed for the sustainable technologies that will be explored for implementation in future Masdar City buildings.

The Institute’s residences and laboratories are oriented to shade both the adjacent buildings and the pedestrian streets below and the facades are also self-shading. Over 5,000 square metres of roof-mounted photovoltaic installations provide power and further protection from the direct sun. A 10-megawatt solar field within the masterplan site provides 60 per cent more energy than is consumed by the Masdar Institute, all of which can be fed back to the Abu Dhabi grid. The campus will also use significantly less energy and water than average modern buildings in the UAE. Horizontal and vertical fins and brise soleil shade the laboratories, which have highly flexible ‘plug and play’ services to encourage interdisciplinary research. The laboratory facades are formed from highly insulative inflatable ETFE cushions, which remain cool to the touch under the intense desert sun. Cooling air currents are directed through the public spaces using a contemporary interpretation of the region’s traditional wind towers, and green landscaping and water provide evaporative cooling.

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. One, two and three-bedroom apartments are housed in low-rise, high-density blocks, which provide a social counterpoint to the research environment. 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 and 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

Abu Dhabi UAE

View map
  • Site and Climate

    The city grid is angled to minimise solar penetration of the streetscape. It also helps capture and funnel prevailing winds, to cool the masterplan.

  • Form and Massing

    The orientation of the buildings was designed to optimise street shading and provide overshadowing to adjacent buildings, which helps to keep them cool. The design of the façade means that, while buildings are in close proximity to their neighbours, there is still a feeling of privacy, as they do not overlook each other.

  • Passive Design Insulated facades to all buildings within the masterplan and balconies with solar screens in residential blocks, provide protection from direct solar access. In the atria, a thermal stack and exposed thermal mass, help to provide passive cooling.
  • Environmental Systems Each building contains advance environmental systems to maximise comfort whilst minimising energy usage. These include advanced fan coil units; active chilled beams with air sensing technology to reduce air change rates; low energy lighting fittings; advanced frictionless chillers and full heat and coolth recovery from exhaust air.
  • Renewable Energy A rooftop PV array helps provide the electricity requirements of the buildings whilst shading the roof to limit solar heat gains.
  • Energy Infrastructure A near site 50MW PV array and concentrated solar power plant help provide the energy requirements of Masdar.
  • Mobility and Connectivity

    The city was designed for a healthy lifestyle by encouraging walking, through improving the microclimate and the positioning of lifts to encourage stair use. Masdar is a car free city. An electronic personal rapid transit (PRT) system transports people around the development in a specially designed undercroft.

  • Materials and Waste

    Low carbon concrete with cement replacement. Full on-site waste segregation and recycling in construction helped to minimise waste sent to landfill. Prefabrication of key façade elements and bathroom pods helped to reduce construction waste. 100% certified timber was used in the library structure and palmwood used for the screens. A lifecycle analysis methodology was followed throughout the material selection process.

  • Water Potable water usage was minimised, using low flow fixtures and fittings. Water was then recycled, including condensate for non-potable water uses. Species used in landscaping were carefully chosen to minimise irrigation requirements.
  • Land and Ecology

    Landscaping and ecology were used intelligently across the streetscape to provide both shade and cooling through the natural process of evapotranspiration. To minimise the impact of the development, Masdar is an example of a high-density, low-rise development.

  • Culture and Heritage

    The road layout was a response to the traditional Arabic walled town. Arabic geometry was used widely throughout the design of the buildings, including in the privacy and shading screens on the balconies and in the detailing of the facades. A windtower in the courtyard draws upon historic precedent, whilst using the latest technologies to help cool the external area.

  • Wellbeing The design has an enhanced microclimate through shade, material selection for thermal mass, wind movement and evaporative cooling from water features and the windtower. Within the buildings, the creation of buffer spaces between indoor and outdoor areas helps to reduce the thermal shock from travelling through air conditioned buildings to the midday heat of Abu Dhabi.
  • Prosperity Masdar is designed to be a cleantech hub, attracting universities and companies alike, that are developing innovative sustainable technologies. Bringing new businesses and skills to the region.
  • Planning for Change The structure in Phase 1 is designed to be flexible, allowing for residential areas to be converted into labs, or vice versa.
  • Performance in Use After phase 1 was completed a microclimate post-occupancy evaluation was conducted. This showed measurable improvement in felt comfort, compared to downtown Abu Dhabi. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are studying a number of renewable technologies for applicability in the desert, including the performance implications of sand collecting on PV arrays.
  • Appointment 2007
  • Completion 2015
  • Area 340,000m²
  • Capacity 800
  • Client Mubadala Development Company
  • Structural Engineer Adams Kara Taylor
  • Environmental Engineer Foster + Partners, JW Armstrong
  • Landscape Architect Gillespies
  • Lighting Engineer Claude Engle
  • 2013 - British Expertise International Awards, Outstanding International Architecture Project
  • 2011 - RIBA International Award
  • Masdar Institute