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 popular entertainment activities.
Attempting to move away from this standard, Dewan Architects & Engineers in collaboration with Benoy Architects, have designed Dubai’s first open-air retail mall, The Avenues. The mall sits on a 12,800m2 plot between Al Wasl Road and Sheikh Zayed Road and stretches over 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.
The core design principle was to create a mall that fit in seamlessly with the surrounding residential architecture to allow for uniformity within the residential area.
The design inspiration was strewn 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,” explained project architect, executive director of Dewan Architects and Engineers, Ammar Al Assam.
To achieve this, the architects sought to transform the notion of malls and bring something new. “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 Avenues prides itself on its location, which offers unobstructed views of the towering Burj Khalifa.
Although the mall’s open-concept promises visitors a unique experience in Dubai, the lack of an air-conditioned roof structure means that the architects have 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,” said Thyer.
As such, in addition to incorporating green spaces and water fountains, outdoor cooling has been implemented to help maintain outdoor activities on the terraces of the F&B outlet even during the summer months.
Another major challenge was having nine months to execute the entire project. “The short time frame for the design and construction of the project was 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 recti-linear fashion to re-create a homely and village-like atmosphere with a central play area.
The parking is kept outside and all the activities inside so there is a separation of space but 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 and patients.
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 and humid summer months.
More importantly, as Thyer further highlighted during the site visit, the garden-like play area allows for an open-concept playground within the confines of the mall, hence allowing families with young children to 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 place and uniqueness,” added Al Ammar.