ABU DHABI // Staff and students at Masdar Institute's new campus will find the three, solar-powered, energy-efficient LED screens running the length of a 45-metre high wind tower hard to deny.
Due to be connected to the building management system and up and running within days, the screens are designed to flash green, pink or red.
Green means the building is functioning as it should, using half of the electricity of others in the emirate. Pink will flash as consumption goes up.
Red will serve as "a guilt trip, making everyone wonder what equipment they left on", said Martyn Potter, director of operations and facilities at Masdar Institute.
"It tells everyone on campus how well we are doing," said Mr Potter. "Sustainability is a way of life and you have to get used to it."
The 43,000sq metre compound, which opened last month and will be officially inaugurated today by UAE and foreign dignitaries, has been designed as the emirate's most energy-efficient building. It is fully powered by renewable and non-polluting solar energy.
The wind tower near the end of the development serves to cool the outdoor areas of the campus by improving air circulation. The energy consumed by the towers and the attached LED screens, which are "very low users of power", will be negligible, said Mr Potter.
The Masdar Institute campus now houses more than 40 faculty and 156 students, and marks the first step toward building Masdar City, the world's first large-scale carbon-free development. The first phase is designed to accommodate 8,000 residents and up to 10,000 workers, down from earlier plans to accommodate 90,000 people by 2016.
Construction has already begun on the institute's next phase, which in two year's time will feature another 82,000 square metres of space.
As it has from the beginning, energy efficiency has been the priority in everything from the initial building design and materials to ongoing operation.
"We have used many techniques to reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting and cooling," said Hamza Kazim, vice president of operations and finance at the Masdar Institute.
The buildings are designed to allow in enough natural light to reduce the need for artificial lighting. They have large, overhanging roofs, which help shade pedestrian areas below while creating space for the array of solar panels harvesting the sun's energy up top.
The dormitories are reddish-brown in colour and covered in glass fibre-reinforced concrete, which helps protect them from the heat. Gaps in the facades allow air to circulate more easily. Screens on the balconies let in natural light while keeping the students' lodgings private, a favourite feature for one dormitory resident, Khasiba al Dalel, from Dubai.
"I like the idea of using an Arabic-style pattern to provide privacy but also let natural light in," said the 27-year-old, who already has an architecture degree from UAE University and is enrolled in the institute's master's degree foundation programme.
While dormitories feature some traditional elements, across the facade of the laboratory building are what appear to be hundreds of large plastic bubbles made out of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE. The futuristic plastic material has been used in other iconic buildings, including the famous National Stadium in Beijing, known also as The Bird's Nest.
The bubbles are filled with the inert gas argon, which captures the heat of the sun's rays and reduces it, preventing a rise in temperature inside the building. The gas also serves to bounce light back at the streets, ensuring they are well-lit.
The Masdar Institute was established in cooperation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT). It focuses on clean-energy research and technological development.