This Futuristic Desert City Is Designed For Self-Sufficient, Communal Living

If you lived here, you’d never have to leave. Given that you’d be in the middle of a desert, that’s probably a good thing.

Masdar City—Abu Dhabi’s $18 billion experiment in planning a city from the ground up—was designed to be the world’s first large-scale carbon-neutral development. It’s results are decidely mixed so far.


If we want to build truly sustainable cities in the desert, Italian architect Luca Curci argues that we’ll have to fundamentally rethink how cities work. In a new conceptual project, Curci sketched out a self-sufficient city designed so its residents share every resource, from renewable energy to recycled wastewater. Instead of a typical grid of streets, the city is built from a network of connected circular buildings.

The smallest buildings are designed for single families or small communities of families, while the largest buildings act as miniature cities in themselves, with apartments for as many as 5,000 people, office space, and entertainment; if you live there, you’d essentially never have to leave. Medium-sized buildings are designed to hold more services and cultural centers.

“In the lower walls there are the basic components of the human settlement–apartments in the bigger structure, offices and laboratories in the medium structure,” explains Curci. “The arch contains cultural, social, and administrative infrastructure like schools, city hall, and hospitals. Below them will be water and food tanks.”

Solar panels will power the buildings, while wind-harvesting devices inside building walls will help keep them naturally cool. Desalination will provide drinking water, which can then be reused. Each of the buildings will be connected to share resources most efficiently, both for environmental reasons and to give all city-dwellers equal access to infrastructure.

“The buildings are connected through communication and energy networks located under the streets,” explains Curci. “The advantage of that is simple: sharing resources to give all an equal quality of life.”

The architect envisions that residents would use shared electric cars to get around. Inside the largest building, there could even be a small circular subway.


Of course, the design is just a concept, and the details are sketchy. But Curci hopes that it’s the beginning of rethinking standard, resource-guzzling developments that make little sense in the modern world–especially in desert environments. “This is a starting point,” he says. “We’re developing a realization along with a research program on the idea, the technical project and the local possibilities.”

He also thinks a similar design could be useful in regions like the American West, where drought-stricken cities are struggling to adapt to disappearing resources. “This is a project proposal for a new way to live in the desert,” he says. “There are many ways to save and reuse available resources.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.