Straight out of the pages of an Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novella - except very real, we bring you the city of Masdar. Conceived as community-sized experiment in urban planning and green technologies, this oasis in the deserts of Arabia is making the future seem more like today than tomorrow.
Conceived in 2006, phase one of the city is now complete after three years’ work and a spend of .4bn. The development, near Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, consists of six main buildings, one street, 101 small apartments, a large electronic library, and the Masdar Institute.
This offshoot campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has 167 students and 43 academics, most of whom are from other countries, the US, Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East. On campus there is a bank, a sushi bar, canteen, organic food shop and a concrete basement where 10 driverless vehicles whiz people along the 800 metres from the entrance of the city to the institute.
All this utopian engineering comes with a price: the green police. Scientists managing the energy consumption of the entire city can monitor and control every appliance via an intelligent digital grid that senses and controls energy use. Showers turn off after a few minutes, sensors switch on fridges and lights. Temperature and water use can be centrally controlled. American students living abroad must deal with extreme lifestyle adjustments on all levels:
“It felt like culture shock,” Laura Stupin, a young engineering student and one of the first inhabitants of the city, wrote on her blog. “The buildings are beautiful here, and they look so different from anything I’ve ever seen, anywhere. I keep telling people that it feels like I’m living in a psychology experiment. Every time I flip a light switch in the living room and the faucet in the bathroom starts running, or I desperately push all the buttons on the stove to try to turn on a burner, I can’t help looking over my shoulder and wondering if there’s a scientist observing my behaviour and reactions in this strange environment.”
We're highly intrigued by such a massively man-made environment that extends all the way to behavioral monitoring. How much freedom must we give in exchange for the good of the community?