For malls in the UAE, these are heady days. The newest of several to open up over the past few years is the Mall of the Emirates, with its highly publicized indoor ski slope. Like the 7-star Burj Al-Arab hotel or the 50+ story Emirates Towers, the mall together with its famous ski slope has become a new symbol for Dubai.
The operations manager of the complex, Maher Al-Aghbar, says that there is little need to advertise or pay for publicity as the ski slope garners headlines all over the world. The attraction was conceived of as a way to increase visitor numbers for the mall, but it has in fact become the main attraction. That being said, the mall itself generates up to 40,000 visitors per day on week days and over 100,000 per day on weekends.
Although all of the hoopla over the ski slope might be regarded as just so much hyperbole, the enthusiasm is warranted. From inside the structure one can easily imagine being on an actual mountain slope. The ground is packed with not artificial but real snow produced nightly. Water droplets are sprayed from the ceiling of the structure with just the right atmospheric conditions and the required distance for decent to transform the droplets into snow.
Environmentalists have complained about the energy and water expenditure required to create the artificial environment but the operations manager is quick to point out that the massive amount of chilled water generated by the melted snow is used efficiently to cool the rest of the mall complex.
The Mall of the Emirates was preceded by the perhaps mischievously named Ibn Batuta Mall. It is an extravagant architectural wonder of a different sort. The structure is built in a style to reflect the architecture of six historic civilizations said to have been visited by the Arab explorer Ibn Battuta in the 14th century. These include China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia (a region of Spain). Both the interior and exterior of the mall are stunning, including reliefs and monumental objects of relevance to the culture portrayed. A majestic elephant ridden by a maharaja adorns the India courtyard, for example, while a giant traditional fishing trawler dominates the China court.
Each thematic area is linked to the one beside it resulting in a mall stretched out across a wide track of land. As beautiful and inspiring as each of the themed sections are, the shopper is often forced to make a tedious trek from one destination to another to find a particular item. The artists, architects and interior designers certainly did their jobs well, but the lead developer should have included an internal transport system of some sort.
Mercato Mall is another extravagantly designed theme mall with a European flavor, including porticos and enclosed patios to give one an outdoor ambience while preserving the comfort of indoor cooling. It is a much smaller complex than either Ibn Battuta Mall or the Mall of the Emirates, but it adds a distinct level of style and comfort to the shopping experience.
Not to Be Outdone
Dubai is not alone in its megamall offerings, with two large complexes recently built in Abu Dhabi and more to come. Abu Dhabi Mall is a 3-level complex at city center, which became when it opened in 2002 the largest mall in the UAE. It was followed a year later by Marina Mall, which due to recent expansions has now become Abu Dhabi's largest.
Similar to the Mall of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi Mall is a thoroughly modern structure with glossy floors, high ceilings and a concentration of high fashion outlets. Marina Mall incorporates suitably a water theme and is presently constructing its own indoor ski slope and a rather out of character observation tower. Abu Dhabi does not put up well with being second to Dubai, but Dubai's sights are on world not national titles.
Until the Fat Lady Sings
Back in Dubai, the largest malls yet are on the way. Already under construction at the foot of the 70-story and rising Burj Dubai--to be the world's tallest building--is the Dubai Mall. It aims to be the largest mall in the world. Its claim to uniqueness will be a concentration of the world's most trendy and distinctive brands. It aims to be the premiere outlet for Gucci, Rolex, Chanel and the like. The plan is not for boutique shops but large retail outlets that will carry the full range of a brand's products.
Located at the heart of Downtown, a new Emaar creation for Dubai, the mall will have express ramps leading right into its parking structure and a dedicated passenger train or monorail. The mall, along with the Burj Dubai, are due for completion in 2008 or 2009.
On its heels will be Dubailand's anchor retail destination, the Mall of Arabia. Dubai Land, still several years away from becoming reality, will be a massive new city built around various entertainment and recreational themes, including sports complexes with Olympic class facilities, theme parks including a Jurassic Park style destination with animated (i.e. robotic) dinosaurs, and a hotel strip that will surpasss Las Vegas's, including a 6000-room complex called Asia, Asia with replicas of Asia's most famous towering skyscrapers. It is among all this extravagence that the Mall of Arabia will be built.
Will it end there? Will the shoppers flock their way? Or, will the malls suffer the effects of over-capacity? The respected founding father of the megamall phenomenon in the UAE is Deira City Centre, opened in the late 1990's. Despite the recent opening of Mercato Mall, Ibn Battuta and Mall of the Emirates along with smaller shopping complexes and those in Abu Dhabi, the ever expanding Deira City Centre is still overflowing with shoppers. It will probably be some time before the fat lady ushers in the final curtain on Dubai's mall developments.
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