Interview: Silicon Oasis Mall by Design International features double skin facade, social sustainability, natural light
Aidan Imanova speaks to Davide Padoa, CEO at Design International, about Dubai’s upcoming Avenues Mall, Silicon Oasis and how its architecture redefines the shopping experience.
When Lulu Group, a UAE-headquartered retailer with operations across the Middle East, wanted to introduce a new shopping mall to Dubai’s Silicon Oasis neighbourhood, London-based architecture firm Design International was chosen to translate its vision into the new ‘statement architecture’.
Davide Padoa, CEO at Design International, explained that Lulu Group – known for its Hypermarkets – wanted to create a structure that marked its entry into a new generation of shopping malls in the city. The Avenues Mall, located directly at the gate of the Silicon Oasis Smart City, comes as part of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to create the first sustainable city of its kind in Dubai, and speaks to the sustainable future of the client’s business endeavours.
“These combined elements gave us the opportunity to create a very dynamic type of mall, almost destroying what’s traditionally seen as an enclosed shoe box,” Padoa explained.
He added that the design team wanted to “explode” the typical structure that malls have inherited, which resulted in a porous and open environment. The project site itself was the initial inspiration for the mountainous-like curvature of the building, a contrast to the more typical flatland sites that can be found across the emirate.
“What caught our attention from the beginning was the fact that the site was full of contours. There was a changing level of about nine metres from one end of the site to the other,” Padao said.
The architects disintegrated the building into five pebble-like structures with gaps in between used as circulation areas, which allow visitors to experience the various areas of the mall as if walking inside a canyon.
“Each component is treated like a pebble and visitors are invited to flow through the pebbles by experiencing different environments, from food to shopping,” he said.
The façades of each ‘pebble’ have been punctuated with small holes, rendered as a lighting feature, as well as a signal for all the different activities that take place inside.
“The different worlds that you find inside can be read by the passers-by along Al Ain Road as pulsating pebbles with different lighting effects, which communicates the idea that there is always life inside. It creates a sense of curiosity,” he added.
Lighting plays a large role in the navigation and experience of the mall, with the architects employing a strict formula for natural light versus artificial light. Natural lighting is enhanced in the circulation areas with the use of skylights inserted in the façades of the building.
“The fully transparent part of the skylight, in contrast to the opaque part, should be 50 percent of the total surface that covers the mall area. In the design and philosophy of this particular project, it was like moving water between those pebbles where visitors follow a natural direction. This is where we bring in the natural light with this formula,” Padoa explained.
Natural light is also enhanced at the three courts near the main entrances of the mall, which are equally distanced from one another at various corners to provide diverse perspectives with the help of the irregular pebble shapes.
“We are also able to multiply the intermediately-sized courts by creating a mall that’s never parallel,” Padoa said. “The irregularity of the angles create a priority of focal points and we give the ones that are more visible across the level a larger size within the mix.”
Padoa relates this method to the urbanistic formulas of plazas in a city, where, upon entering, you already have a glimpse of the next one due to the irregular arrangement of the focal points.
“These are some of the formulas we used and achieved them by making sure the pebbles are not aligned. We did not want them to be parallel; we wanted them to be scattered and mimic a new city within Silicon Oasis, as if you’re in a real oasis,” he said.
The façade of the building incorporates a non-traditional approach, and features a double-skin, which is relatively uncommon in shopping malls. Consisting of a primary building envelope intended to seal the building from external elements and a secondary layer, the double-skin is clad in Alucobond to create a buffer zone for auxiliary servicing, where required.
The secondary façade layer has been designed with aesthetics in mind helping to draw people towards the entrances visually. The dual façade has also been designed to deal with localised site conditions offering optimal heat performance and wind load dissipation.
Design International first accomplished this approach when it designed a mall in Morocco – the design team used real stretched fabric for one of the façade layers. “Since then, we basically design the second skin of every building as if we are tailors from Naples,” Padoa said.
Each of the five ‘pebbles’ houses a different experience that caters to the Silicon Oasis neighbourhood, which features a mix of residences and university complexes.
The first two ‘pebbles’ host an array of food and entertainment. The food areas are divided into two sections including a two-level Lulu Hypermarket, as well as casual dining and food courts. A 70,000ft2 family entertainment area is also incorporated into this mix.
The other two components house shopping areas, divided by age groups. The last ‘pebble’ is tailored for home-related purchases.
While the Avenues Mall aims to attract a broad audience who will travel from further distances, it also wants to cater to those already at its doorstep: the residents of Silicon Oasis and students from the nearby Academic City.
The foundation has been laid for the project with an aim to complete by 2020, in time for the Dubai Expo, which further accentuates the focus on sustainability.
Energy consumption has been reduced with the approach to lighting, both in terms of maximising natural light as well as the use of LEDs across the entire project, which lessens energy consumption by a third.
The architects have also introduced the regulation of humidity levels within the mall through architectural measures. Now controlled by a central technology, once the humidity is at a comfortable level, the skylights open to allow fresh air into the space.
In addition to focusing on energy consumption, social sustainability was a major focus for the project – a feature that is becoming largely popular in other parts of the world.
Job centres complete with incubators have been established to encourage students to explore their options within their area of study, as well as encouraging entrepreneurship, by using the shopping mall as a means of opportunity.
“We have an area of incubators where the rent is reduced heavily to encourage people to launch new businesses there.This encourages new entrepreneurs to launch new products and that’s the social responsibility that we are talking about. In a building that has so many shops, why not allow for five
percent of the stores to be your incubators?” said Padoa.
“Of course, it’s possible that out of the 10, six might close, two might survive and one might not work for the region, but there is one that could become the next global brand. And this enables the mall to become the place that gave birth to a new brand.”