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Abu Dhabi's eco city gets Swiss touch

The futuristic Masdar, as seen by Norman Foster

(Foster & Partner)

Switzerland is to have its very own community within Masdar, Abu Dhabi's highly futuristic and ambitious "green city", which is currently being built in the desert.

The organisers told a media conference that the Swiss Village – currently the only initiative of its kind - will allow firms to showcase clean technologies, as well as build up a business base from the richest emirate.

The project has benefited latterly from the support of Osec, the platform for the promotion of Swiss businesses abroad, it was announced at the event at the Osec headquarters in Zurich on Tuesday.

Masdar, meaning "source" in Arabic, is the brainchild of the oil-rich state of Abu Dhabi, which is seeking to move away from its dependence on oil and gas.

The multi-billion dollar city, expected to be home to 50,000 people and designed by British star architect Norman Foster, is scheduled to be fully completed by 2018.

Although it will be based on the layout of ancient Arab cities, there will be nothing old fashioned about it.

Eco city

"Masdar city is 100 per cent based on renewable energies, has no cars, zero waste and a zero carbon balance, so it goes to new levels with respect to sustainable urban planning," Nick Beglinger, president of the Swiss Village Association (SVA), told swissinfo.ch.

"Swiss Village is in the centre, or the filet piece as we call it, of Masdar, between the headquarter building of Masdar and the MIST, the Masdar university which is being developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

A memorandum of understanding between the SVA, which is now made up of more than 60 Swiss companies, and Masdar authorities was signed at the end of July.

The village, which the organisers said with a smile would be high-tech rather than chalets, will be Swiss designed and built.

It will host companies with expertise in clean technologies and those wanting to built up a presence in the area. The Swiss Embassy in Abu Dhabi will be housed in the centre, and there will be shops, flats and a private school.

The community will be built in the first phase of the city, making the Swiss among the first Masdar tenants, and is expected to be open for business in 2011.

Big names onboard

Implenia, Switzerland's largest construction and building services provider, is one of the companies which is already onboard.

Roland Fisch, chief operating officer of Implenia global solutions, said that the firm was looking to expand its local team in Abu Dhabi. The company would be involved in project and construction management.

"We want to be an international company in the future, so we have the goal of being part of such international Swiss projects abroad," he told swissinfo.ch.

Other big names that have signed up include Hublot, the watchmaker, and technology company Oerlikon.

Unique project

Switzerland is currently the only country with concrete plans for its own community, which Beglinger put down to the fact that Swiss companies have been involved in Masdar since its inception by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in 2006.

A Zurich-based company Maxmakers was the strategic and financial advisor and big bank Credit Suisse is managing a cleantech investment fund for Masdar, which includes the bank's own money, he said.

There has been strong political support for the project. A memorandum of understanding between the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland on research cooperation in the field of renewable energies was signed in January 2009.

Osec came on board in spring this year, giving an additional impetus. It has provided the project with extra financing – from the government's economic stimulus programme - and is also looking for extra companies to sign up.

The body expects the potential benefits for Swiss companies of several hundred million Swiss francs, especially as they can win contracts from the beginning. A free-trade agreement with several Gulf states is also due to be signed, opening up the regional market further, it added.

Last year Swiss exports to the Gulf state totalled SFr2.8 billion ($2.6 billion), up 40 per cent on 2007. Osec said that the economic crisis was hardly having an effect on Abu Dhabi, making Masdar a good opportunity. In addition, the city will be tax free.

Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich, swissinfo.ch

Masdar City

The city is a six square kilometre carbon neutral, waste free city powered by a 40-megawatt photovoltaic plant and wind farms. The city will provide facilities for the world's leading researchers and manufacturers in the sustainable energy sector.

It can house 50,000 people with an extra 40,000 people expected to commute in. The investment volume is $23 billion.

The design is very futuristic. Star-trek like pods will be the main form of public transport. It has also been created to catch the winds, ensuring that the city will be cooled.

Masdar has combined forces with some of the world's leading educational establishments, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to offer Masters and PhD courses.

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Abu Dhabi

The state is the largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates, with the richest reserve of raw materials. Although only one-third of the UAE population live there, it generates around 60 per cent of the gross domestic product.

It has 10% of the worldwide mineral oil reserves, but has in recent years concentrated on an economic diversification programme to reduce its dependency on oil and gas. The emirate wants to be a global centre for renewable energy and sustainability related technologies and to generate 7% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The Masdar initiative was started as part of this aim. Apart from the city, it includes an investment arm and a sector for projects to reduce emissions.

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