Malls in the Gulf region are increasingly becoming centres of urban planning and master design of the built environment. They have become the heart of the community and the centre of family life. But does this mean that future generations will believe that the content of the mall is the concept of the town?
A large enclosure containing a variety of retail stores, anchored with one or more mega stores, and surrounded by car-parking spaces, is in fact the American model of a mall. In contrast to US malls, the traditional souks and bazaars in this part of the world were covered and usually led to other parts of the town such as mosques or parks.
The most suitable mall model for this region needs to embrace the best aspects of the US model, the traditional covered ‘sikka’ of the souks and bazaars, and the needs of the modern life we live today. Shopping malls in this region must be suitable and adequate for their end users.
Shopping malls are visited by all demographics including families of all races and nationalities, the young and old, locals and tourists. The malls replace the town streets, public places and squares.
People who gather in malls are seeking shelter from high temperatures and humidity. They expect the mall to replace the complex urban environment. However, despite the large number of retail stores and attractions that have been widely added, the shopping mall is not capable of replacing the complexity of the city.
They cannot replace recreational spaces such as swimming pools, tennis courts and playgrounds and parks. The significance of the shopping mall in the everyday life of the people in the Gulf region is undeniable. Therefore, they must be transparent, open and well connected with the rest of the city, including parks.
Parks themselves, in order to become an integral part of shopping malls, need to include other forms of spaces such as covered glass gardens that lead to open parks and other city structures and buildings.
The pedestrian traffic of the mall needs to be coordinated and directed towards the glass gardens and open parks. Glass gardens need to be equipped with facilities such as kiosks, cafés, children’s playgrounds, stages for musical and other performances, fountains and so on.
A system of cooling and ventilation of the glass gardens should be based on energy produced by solar panels and modern forms of traditional Arabian wind towers.
The use of the shopping mall as a social environment is rising. Meanwhile, the concept of parks as an integral component of the mall needs to be coordinated through the model of pedestrian connectivity and sustainable urban living. In fact, the concept of sustainable living is the starting point for the planning of our future social and built environment.
Georgina Chakar is an Australian architect and a Master of Urban Planning. She works in Abu Dhabi.