By Carlin Gerbich
The development of shopping malls in the region surged in recent years, but many of the mall projects that will be completed are coming to a conclusion.
The development of shopping malls in the region surged in recent years, but many of the mall projects that will be completed are coming to a conclusion. From their humble beginnings as simple extensions to supermarkets and key department stores, shopping malls have become more than simply a place to buy clothes and search for a bargain. Mega-malls have sprouted up everywhere, offering shoppers more variety and an ever widening range of associated activities to keep them entertained. Malls are no longer simply places to shop: they're one-stop entertainment, shopping and social venues.
Dubai's landmark Mall of the Emirates, with its indoor ski slope, Dubai Mall - with its aquarium, underwater zoo, multiplex cinema and four cornerstone retailers, and the newly opened Mirdif City Centre mall, with its Leeds Gold rating for environmental design, are premium examples of just how far mall development has advanced in recent years. With other countries in the GCC and MENA regions set to follow suit, the future of mall design is an exciting one.
Majid Al Futtaim Properties is one of Dubai's leading mall development and management companies - and senior vice president of Project Management Jonathan Emery joined the team in 2008 to re-establish an internal project management department, set up in response to an increased work load for the company in the UAE and MENA region.
It is Emery's job to pull developments, such as the recently opened 196,000m3 Mirdif City Centre, through to delivery. Even when faced with the double whammy of an ambitious, immovable deadline and a construction boom that put a premium on some building supplies and packages, Emery's team was able to manage costs, keep suppliers happy and move at a speedy pace to deliver the project on time.
"Having built malls before we sort of knew some of the risks associated with a project this size anywhere in the world, but also some of the particular local issues. Essentially, we worked hard at mitigating those risks so we identified them at a very early stage and put in place the mitigation measures."
"We worked very hard with the retailers and our leasing team, as well as our construction team to explain to them our ambition to open on March 16 and we put in extra resources so that we can turn around their designs and supporting technical documentation early," says Emery.Constant climate conditions and terrain provide unique challenges for mall developers in the Middle East. Mirdif has its own cooling plant and sub-station, but a number of passive elements were designed into the building by architects, to minimise the draw on demand from the HVAC systems. A minimal use of glass reduces demand on the cooling systems, while natural light, interior landscaping and ventilation help create a comfortable environment. Mirdif is also the first mall in Dubai to achieve Leed Gold status for its ecological design and construction, due in part to its environmentally-friendly HVAC systems.
As Richard Reid, senior vice-president of Majid Al Futtaim Properties, explained, cooling the centre required a considered approach. "The servicing of a large building from central locations is always a challenge to the architecture; the impact on visual aesthetics both inside and outside the mall from exposed services needs to be addressed by screening and co-ordination. The concept design philosophy was to use the roof for services distribution, causing the primary structure to be increased to allow for the considerable load from the primary header services."
Majid Al Futtaim will implement similar systems with its future developments throughout the MENA region. Along with its three key Dubai malls, and seven further malls in Bahrain, Sharjah, Ajman, Oman (Muscat and Qurum) and Egypt (Alexandria city and Maadi), Majid Al Futtaim also has plans for another six malls. Work on one of Africa's largest malls, a super regional mall in the 6th October area of western Cairo, is due to start on the project later this year. At 185,000m2 it will be of GLA on completion. Cairo will also get a mid range mall (50,000m2 GLA) in central Cairo and a further community Mall in Eastern Cairo. Fujairah will get a community mall, construction on the 28,000m2 Sohar City Centre mall in Oman, will be completed in 2011.
Qatar's Downtown Entertainment City in Lusail, Doha, is a joint venture between Majid Al Futtaim and Abu Dhabi Investment House, and includes a super regional mall with Carrefour hypermarket, hotels, offices - and will form the heart of the region's US $275 million (QAR1 billion) 1 million m² mixed-use development, scheduled to open by the middle of 2012 - while new projects in Saudi Arabia (the $50bn King Abdullah Economic City and Madina's $8bn Knowledge Economic City) will call for equally innovative ecological and commercial ideas.
As a new development, designers are able to stipulate the roading infrastructure required. Dubai Mall, with 1000 shops, at present, and a total floor area of 12 million ft2, the four-storey mall not only needed a network of roads for the public and taxi services, but service roads for management staff, suppliers and maintenance workers. Public access to the site from Sheik Zayed Road, which runs parallel to the Gulf Coast and right through the heart of the city's sprouting Al Satwa area, funnel cars in to the mall's three car parking areas and their 14,000 car parks. Road links back to the main highway are still underway, while the Dubai Metro stop at the nearby Burj Khalifa delivers shoppers almost to the door. An expansion project at the iconic 222, 967m2 Mall of the Emirates is adding an extra 750 car parks and 10,000m2 of retail space for new shops.