Interview: Silicon Oasis Mall by Design International features double skin facade, social sustainability, natural light

Aidan Imanova speaks to Davide Padoa, CEO at Design International, about Dubai’s upcoming Avenues Mall, Silicon Oasis and how its architecture redefines the shopping experience.

When Lulu Group, a UAE-headquartered retailer with operations across the Middle East, wanted to introduce a new shopping mall to Dubai’s Silicon Oasis neighbourhood, London-based architecture firm Design International was chosen to translate its vision into the new ‘statement architecture’.

Davide Padoa, CEO at Design International, explained that Lulu Group – known for its Hypermarkets – wanted to create a structure that marked its entry into a new generation of shopping malls in the city. The Avenues Mall, located directly at the gate of the Silicon Oasis Smart City, comes as part of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to create the first sustainable city of its kind in Dubai, and speaks to the sustainable future of the client’s business endeavours.

“These combined elements gave us the opportunity to  create a very dynamic type of mall, almost destroying what’s traditionally seen as an enclosed shoe box,” Padoa explained.

He added that the design team wanted to “explode” the typical structure that malls have inherited, which resulted in a porous and open environment. The project site itself was the initial inspiration for the mountainous-like curvature of the building, a contrast to the more typical flatland sites that can be found across the emirate.

“What caught our attention from the beginning was the fact that the site was full of contours. There was a changing level of about nine metres from one end of the site to the other,” Padao said.

The architects disintegrated the building into five pebble-like structures with gaps in between used as circulation areas, which allow visitors to experience the various areas of the mall as if walking inside a canyon.

“Each component is treated like a pebble and visitors are invited to flow through the pebbles by experiencing different environments, from food to shopping,” he said.

The façades of each ‘pebble’ have been punctuated with small holes, rendered as a lighting feature, as well as a signal for all the different activities that take place inside.

“The different worlds that you find inside can be read by the passers-by along Al Ain Road as pulsating pebbles with different lighting effects, which communicates the idea that there is always life inside. It creates a sense of curiosity,” he added.

Lighting plays a large role in the navigation and experience of the mall, with the architects employing a strict formula for natural light versus artificial light. Natural lighting is enhanced in the circulation areas with the use of skylights inserted in the façades of the building.

The façades of each ‘pebble’ have been punctuated with small holes, rendered as a lighting feature.

“The fully transparent part of the skylight, in contrast to the opaque part, should be 50 percent of the total surface that covers the mall area. In the design and philosophy of this particular project, it was like moving water between those pebbles where visitors follow a natural direction. This is where we bring in the natural light with this formula,” Padoa explained.

Natural light is also enhanced at the three courts near the main entrances of the mall, which are equally distanced from one another at various corners to provide diverse perspectives with the help of the irregular pebble shapes.

“We are also able to multiply the intermediately-sized courts by creating a mall that’s never parallel,” Padoa said. “The irregularity of the angles create a priority of focal points and we give the ones that are more visible across the level a larger size within the mix.”

Padoa relates this method to the urbanistic formulas of plazas in a city, where, upon entering, you already have a glimpse of the next one due to the irregular arrangement of the focal points.

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