MEA visits The Avenue, Dubai’s first open-air mall located in the heart of Jumeirah that promises to transform the shopping experience here
In a region filled with some of the world’s biggest and most successful malls, it comes as no surprise that developers continue to build retail centres to make the most of lifestyle practices here.
However, apart from their respective locations and distinguishing interiors, most malls in the Middle East offer visitors similar experiences – an air-conditioned environment, an array of fashion boutiques and dining establishments, and a variety of entertainment activities.
Attempting to move away from this standard, Dewan Architects & Engineers (DAE) in collaboration with Benoy Architects, have designed Dubai’s first open-air retail mall, The Avenue. Set to open later this month, the mall sits on a 12,800 m2 plot between Al Wasl Road and Sheikh Zayed Road, and stretches across 1.1km.
Developed by Meraas Holding, The Avenue features 13 low-rise buildings with over 50 different shops and services including banks, clinics, restaurants and retail outlets in an outdoor setting.
Omar Delawar, chief projects officer at Meraas Holding, described the development as similar to offerings in the United States and in Europe, but unlike anything else in the Middle East.
“The architecture is completely different; you will not find this style of architecture elsewhere in Dubai. Contemporary, modern, but still new. We think we are adding something new to Dubai.”
The core design principle was to create a mall that fit seamlessly with the surrounding residential architecture to allow for uniformity with other developments in the area. As the project architect, Ammar Al Assam, executive director of DAE explains, the idea was to add a structure without adding a sharp, foreign design.
To achieve this, the design team sought inspiration from some of the world’s leading outdoor retail ventures. “The team referred to other projects in the US, Europe as well as Singapore to find comparable types of offering such as Kensington High Street and Paris Champs Elysee,” says Al Assam.
He continues: “We were looking for something not present in Dubai, which is this style of outdoor experience with shops and F&B largely open on an active public realm, almost like a Californian Rodeo Drive experience.”
However, unlike California’s Rodeo Drive which is famous for its palm tree lined streets, The Avenue prides itself on its location, which offers unobstructed views of the towering Burj Khalifa.
As Thyer Kubaisi, director, post contracts department, DAE, points out: “Regardless where you are in the mall, whether you are dining or shopping, you will be able to see the Burj.”
Although the mall’s open-concept promises to offer visitors a unique experience in Dubai, the lack of an air-conditioned roof structure meant that the architects had to find innovative ways to combat the desert heat in order to remain viable as a thriving mall.
“The mall allows us to be environmentally sustainable because a lot of energy will be saved since there is no air-conditioning along the walkways but that itself proves a challenge because we have to look for different ways to keep the site cool,” explains Thyer.
To maintain as low an ambient temperature as possible, the architects choose colors and materials that would absorb the least heat and have included awnings as part of the design. In addition, an outdoor cooling system has been implemented to help maintain the running of activities on the terraces adjacent to the F&B outlets, even during the summer months.
Another major challenge faced by the architects was having to work on a short time frame of nine months to execute the entire project. “The short time frame for the design and construction of the project a challenge faced but at the same time it allowed for close coordination between the design and site teams,” explains Al Assam.
Apart from the layout of the mall, which ensures that visitors are able to take in magnificent views of the world’s tallest building, the stores and restaurants are arranged in a rectilinear fashion to re-create a homely atmosphere with a central play area.
The mall is arranged according to blocks around 300 units in length, and 120 units in width. The parking is kept outside and all the activities inside so there is a separation of space while still allowing people to enter the mall from any direction.
In addition, for the part of the mall that houses medical facilities like clinics and pharmacies, a special back entrance has been included in the layout to allow for ease of mobility for doctors, patients and medical staff.
The playground, located in the heart of the mall features sprinkler fountains, a man-made lake and plots of greenery that were purposefully included during the design process to keep the mall cool during the warm summer months.
More importantly, as Thyer highlights during the site visit, the garden-like play area allows for an open-concept playground within the confines of a mall, hence allowing families with young children to comfortably enjoy their shopping and dining experiences.
“The main consideration was to develop a new and successful retail experience never seen before in Dubai, to give the project a sense of identity, place and uniqueness,” adds Al Ammar.