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Masdar Headquarters positive net-energy optimization process. Image: ESD  

  

Masdar City is a planned net-zero energy city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Masdar Initiative is the bold vision of Abu Dhabi as the first major hydrocarbon-producing economy to transform itself into a global leader in new sustainable energy technologies. Its vision is to create a sustainable city providing the highest quality of life with the lowest environmental footprint. Its goals position the city at the forefront of energy efficiency, intelligent resource utilization and sustainable urban development, providing a benchmark for future developments in the region.

The centerpiece of Masdar City is Masdar Headquarters, a 1,000,000-sf, mixed-use facility designed to generate 3% more energy than is needed to operate the building. An international design competition was held (attracting 159 entries) with the challenge of producing the highest level of sustainable design for this facility. The winning design approach considered a systematic evaluation of the whole building structure and systems, environmental context and economic objectives through a cross-disciplinary, integrated design team, setting an exemplar for future sustainable development.

The process for designing a net-zero and, in this case, positive-energy building can be aligned to three main strategies: the reduction of loads, use of energy-efficient systems and solutions and application of the best technologies. The headquarters design team considered building shape, orientation and envelope to meet the challenge presented by UAE’s hot and humid climate. The design incorporates 11 sculpted glass environmental towers, which harness wind and stack effect to provide natural ventilation and cooling to interior courtyards. These “wind cones” take into consideration the facility’s external environment and optimize natural airflow and updraft. The building’s high-performance façade incorporates an innovative solar shading concept consisting of one of the world’s largest building integrated photovoltaic arrays, which is integrated into a separate structural trellis system to provide clean power generation and passively reduce the building’s cooling demands, while shading building occupants. The design team also utilized site orientation optimization to minimize solar heat gain.

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Wine cone CFD analysis and airflow optimization. Image: ESD  

  

Other key sustainability design strategies include a solar-powered central district cooling system, thermo-active foundation piling, underfloor air distribution, desiccant dehumidification, efficient office workstation strategy and a smart-grid-enabled facilities management infrastructure. These systems facilitate carbon neutrality within slightly over a decade, allowing for the remaining century of the building’s expected operation to serve as a carbon offsetting mechanism. Along with producing 3% more energy than it takes to operate, the building is benchmarked to produce 45% less embodied carbon and use 59% less water than standard UAE office buildings.

Incorporating sustainable buildings into cluster hubs offers greater opportunity to reduce energy consumption, especially when combining buildings with different occupancies and uses. The variation in schedule and peak loading of each building provides diversification of loads, allowing for shifting of energy resources between buildings and providing a more uniform, reduced load that can be effectively managed and offset with renewable energy sources. Cluster hub arrangements, such as Masdar City, provide a work-live environment, reducing the energy impact associated with transportation and simplifying facilities management and infrastructure logistics.

On the whole, the built environment is responsible for one of the largest fractions of global energy consumption and, with it, anthropomorphic climate change, a result of the emissions associated with power generation. The importance of the built environment to the energy sustainability equation becomes more evident when one also considers the energy required to design, fabricate, transport and construct the materials necessary to bring new building stock online. Through careful planning, collaboration and a holistic approach to building design, the built environment can achieve unprecedented energy efficiencies and strongly contribute to global carbon management.

As Executive Vice President and Chief of Innovation at Environmental Systems Design, Mehdi Jalayerian provides worldwide consulting services for major super-tall and high-rise buildings, assembly venues, convention/hotel facilities, mission-critical facilities, as well as healthcare, education and central plant projects. Tyler Jensen is a Senior Associate, Project Manager and Mechanical Engineer in Environmental Systems Design’s High Performance Buildings Group.

Extra: Can sustainable design be cost effective?

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