Never mind the trumped up press releases that claimed for Masdar a zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city, or the derisive press that followed. And forget the original ambition to complete such unrealistic goals by 2015.
Fast-forward instead to October, 2010, just over a week after the second batch of students from 26 different countries around the world entered the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff likened Masdar to a futuristic compound for the rich.
But what is it like to actually live in this compound? Laura Stupin, an American student who has just moved there, says she “lives in a spaceship in the middle of the desert.”
“The first day felt like culture shock. The buildings are beautiful here, and they look so different from anything I’ve ever seen, anywhere. My brain really struggled to believe what it was seeing. Is this real? What reality am I in?”
These are among the first lines of Laura’s blog entry after her first week of living in Masdar City.
She described her first night trying to understand the mechanics of her new appliances: the stove, the lighting, the bathroom faucet, and how to turn off the air-conditioning unit.
“Most of the cabinets and closets everywhere here don’t have handles on them, so they look like flat plain wall panels. The secret way to open these secret doors is to press into them, which releases a catch and the door swings out.
When she attempted to conquer laundry, the machines, which had not yet been connected to the power line, would not turn on. One of 100 new students and a self-described eco-geek with a “fanatic obsession for social entrepreneurship as a tool for solving poverty,” Laura was unable to make sense of the Russian and Polish user manuals.
“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 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 behavior and reactions in this strange environment.”
Some cabinets are more suitable for the 7 ft 7″ giant John Coffey from The Green Mile, while her bedroom looks like a room on a spaceship, she says.
Construction workers also appear to outnumber students and researchers, despite the additional 20 faculty appointments made this year.
“This place is a non-stop hive of activity, construction workers are everywhere in neon yellow and orange vests, fixing wiring, testing systems, installing fixtures.”
“I swear I can wake up at any time and look outside and see someone working on something.”
Ms. Stupin says the modern research institute, library, laboratory buildings, and student residences, the only buildings completed since the city’s plans were first announced in 2007, contrasted with the surrounding expanse of dusty nothingness makes her feel like she is in a science fiction novel.
Apart from the desert, the view of her apartment window includes a 10MW solar array and a giant waste pile, where unused materials are sorted to be reused or recycled.
“Sometimes this place just doesn’t seem real,” she wrote.
:: All images and story via Laura’s personal blog Rants and Rambles
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