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Developers and architects tweak retail concepts

Dubai: While the UAE’s retail sector will always be dominated by its super-sized malls, developers and architects are becoming more creative in what they can do with the new shopping destinations in the making. They are thinking ‘community centres’ and where possible, thinking ‘beach-side’.

The reason behind such shifts is clear. With the UAE’s residential landscape getting increasingly fragmented, shoppers are more likely to frequent retail locations within a specified area rather than head for the big destination malls every other day. Also, these days there is little differentiation between the shopping options available at the malls, with 60-70 per cent of brands featuring in all, or most, of them.

Which is why the next-generation malls are going to be much more than retail. “There has been a strong push for both the refurbishment and new design of community centres in the region,” said Paul Priest, who heads the Middle East and North Africa practice at the UK architectural firm Benoy. “As communities tend to be more family-focused, there is a special emphasis on entertainment and leisure aspects as well as the F&B components in each development. And, yes, at times, these elements do give more scope for innovation in design but on a smaller scale.”

Benoy has been associated with the Ferrari World and Galleria developments in Abu Dhabi and, more recently, with The Beach project at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residences) in Dubai. JBR already hosts The Walk, now one of Dubai’s popular meeting places, day in and day out.

“Through our design plan, we’re working on enhancing the current offer of The Walk by upgrading the existing retail facades, enhancing the landscaping, and improving pedestrian flow to create a more experiential retail environment.

“The Beach is a transitional zone between the harder high-rise urban edge of JBR and the softer outline of The Beach. This has allowed us to create a dynamic mix of uses within close proximity while still providing privacy through the use of level changes and soft landscaping.

“What we have learned about retail from our time here is that the quality of the environment and the experience is paramount. Therefore, we are seeing more space offered over to leisure and entertainment destinations, which are now proving to be the primary anchors of our projects.”

For The Beach development, the surroundings have had a great say in the use of materials. This is reflected through the deployment of timber, natural copper and blacked steel “which give a feeling of longevity and strength to the project”.

Community centres are making their way up as a developer – and retailer – favourite. Meraas Holding and Nakheel are leading the way in creating new capacity in this category.

“Retail has increased at many of the new communities and provides for more convenience on grocery, service and leisure (restaurant) outlets,” said Simon Townsend, business development manager at the consultancy DTZ. “With the continued growth of community retail developments, it will be interesting to see if the dynamics of the major retailers – especially those in the grocery sector – will see any adjustments to their offering to maintain customer numbers.

“Mall designs globally are evolving with the UAE no exception – with land and construction prices increasing it is important to maximize the areas capable of generating revenue which coupled with changes in shopping habits has resulted in many existing designs being amended.”