We often hear about green building projects. What makes Masdar City different?
No one has ever taken these issues to this scale, in a holistic manner. There's been a lot of work on individual buildings, but no one has been presented with the challenge and opportunities that exist when you [deal with] the scale, the size of this community. Through this project, you'll see a society that you could argue is anticipatory. It's getting ahead of the game, and others will follow us. As a particular kind of architect, you feed on challenges, and to do it in this environment, in any environment, a zero-waste, zero-carbon city is like putting a man on the moon.
Do you think it's strange that Abu Dhabi, a place built with petrodollars, is engaged in this sort of green project?
I think it's pretty damn savvy. [Oil] is going to run out some time. Everyone knows that. I would argue that the more enlightened are investing wisely in the future, and in a way, it gives added significance to this initiative, coming as it does from an oil-enriched nation. That should tell you something. I mean, come on. Where is America on this? Where's Europe? Where is the U.K.?
You've said working on projects in different countries is like holding a mirror that reflects the true nature of those societies. What does it show in Abu Dhabi?
It shows there is another side of this place that is totally unexpected. I think that as you read about some of this in Western newspapers, you'll be shocked. Your immediate reaction would be, Why aren't we doing this? We're expanding London, and we're just repeating the old model of sprawl. Why elsewhere is there not one experiment like this? Why not in the U.S., with its total dependence on oil? Why can't this collective of European wisdom and power create a similar initiative? I have to ask myself, Why is this initiative, which in urban terms is the most progressive, radical thing happening anywhere, happening here?
Do you ever sense you might be considered a bit of a traitor for doing this in Abu Dhabi?
We have been standing on the street corner for years and no one bothered to pick us up. I think the reality is more global now.
How much is Abu Dhabi prepared to spend on Masdar City?
You'll have to talk to them about that. But they will get value for money. They are quite professional that way. There's not a project in the world where you have a free license, so it's a very disciplined environment. Everyone's reputation is at stake. The stakes are high because the ambitions are very high.
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