ArcGIS helps us to manage assets, visualise routes and make decisions on a construction site of unprecedented size and complexity.

The world’s first carbon-neutral city

Citigen used Esri’s ArcGIS platform in a ground-breaking project to build the world’s first ever carbon neutral, zero waste city, in the harsh surroundings of a desert in the United Arab Emirates. Use of ArcGIS helped the organisation to manage assets with environmental sensitivity and make informed decisions on a construction site of unprecedented size and complexity.

Case study – Civil Engineering

The Customer

Abu Dhabi, capital city of the United Arab Emirates, has thousands of dedicated people, billions of dollars and years of effort coming together to achieve a groundbreaking goal: the world’s first entirely carbon-neutral, zero-waste city – constructed from scratch. Commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, the city’s five and a half square kilometres will be home to 50,000 people, 1,500 businesses and 40,000 daily commuters.

ArcGIS helped Citigen to identify and then resolve potential issues in the master plan before they created unnecessary costs and construction delays

GIS proved invaluable for managing the placement of facilities and the monitoring the condition of assets to improve carbon neutrality

The organisation used GIS to visualise routes and make decisions about the sizing of roads to improve access for emergency services

The Challenge

This is an experiment of colossal proportions, with no historical precedent, but it is also a serious business venture with a tight schedule. The harsh desert environment adds complexity and means understanding geography is vital: sun angles, wind patterns, street widths, building density and height, and even city orientation.

“ Never before have so many environmental facilities come together in one place… GIS helps Masdar select sites, evaluate alternatives and visualise construction sequences for the whole city

Shannon McElvaney – Site Control and GIS Manager, Citigen

The Solution

Citigen and Esri are Enterprise Business Partner and Authorised Systems Integrators on the project and use ArcGIS for spatial planning, modelling and programme management. Geographic Information System (GIS), including cutting-edge 6D GIS modelling, are used to track costs, schedules and carbon emissions, and empower collaborative thinking for creative problem-solving. GIS will also underpin an automated, paperless asset management system. “Masdar City was planned with careful consideration of both human and physical geography”, explains Shannon McElvaney, Citigen’s Site Control and GIS Manager, “So at the very start of this project, extensive analysis was carried out on traditional Arab city infrastructures.”

“ It would have been infinitely more difficult to manage this project without GIS… Maps help people make major decisions every day that benefit this project

Shannon McElvaney – Site Control and GIS Manager, Citigen


Carbon-neutral build
To be a truly carbon-neutral city, the construction must be carbon-neutral (including accommodation and transport for 5,000 labourers). “GIS has proven to be very valuable for the logistics of the build”, confirms McElvaney. “It helps the Masdar team to do everything we can to minimise use of materials, mileage and carbon emissions.”

Meeting the master plan
With more than one hundred different contractors, ensuring that each decision is aligned with the master plan is complex. GIS modelling has made potential problems more visible than on a massive spreadsheet. “We spotted a set of lines on one structure that was about 30 centimetres off from the previous line work”, McElvaney reveals. “If that structure was a bridge, a mistake like that could be very time and cost-intensive to fix at the construction stage. GIS is extremely helpful in preventing that kind of thing from happening.” Occasional environmental infractions are inevitable too, but by plotting incidents based on GPS-tagged photos, corrective action can be taken quickly.

Optimising facility placement
Masdar includes water and sewage treatment plants, recycling centres, a solar farm, geothermal wells, and plantations of different tree species useful for producing biofuels. “Never before have so many environmental facilities come together in one place… GIS helps Masdar select sites, evaluate alternatives and visualise construction sequences for the whole city”, explains McElvaney

Planning unique, safe infrastructure
Like a traditional Arab city, Masdar is designed for pedestrians, but uniquely, the walkways will be elevated, with Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) at ground level. “We used GIS to visualise all routes for the PRT network, and to test predicted walk times between PRT stations”, confirms McElvaney. The accuracy of GIS also revealed that the pedestrian streets were too narrow for fire engines to turn around. Streets were resized before construction, ensuring a safer city from the start.

Balancing carbon, cash flow and schedule
Although carbon neutrality is paramount, cashflow matters too, so the team built a 6D GIS model. “Visualising different combinations helped them to sub-divide original phases into smaller neighbourhood sub-phases which helped to manage costs while monitoring impacts on carbon emissions”, McElvaney explains. “When GIS is used across disciplines and departments it facilitates both collaboration and innovation.”

Clear, fast progress reports
Monthly Google Earth Pro mashups show progress. “When it’s 3D GIS, it’s very easy to convey complex information which everybody can digest quickly”, says McElvaney.

Maintaining the carbon-neutral vision
After completion, GIS will be used daily to manage Masdar City’s assets and maintain carbonneutrality. “The GIS will be integrated with a Computerised Maintenance Management System which will automatically generate work orders that are sent directly to technical engineers who will then carry out the work, and instantly update the system… if you can constantly make small enhancements to your assets, you can effectively double the life of those assets”, enthuses McElvaney. “Masdar will use GIS to visualise energy and water usage for the city as a whole and communicate the status to residents in novel ways… helping everyone in Masdar City work together to cut down on resource use.”

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