Meet La Casa’s Atef Khedhir, head architect on the Mall of Palestine
A Tunisian architect who’s worked in North Africa and now Dubai, Atef Khedhir joined regional architecture firm La Casa back in 2011, following a one year stint with Australian company Schreiber Hamilton. His move proved to be successful, as he’s now handling one of La Casa’s biggest upcoming projects – Mall of Palestine.
A senior concept architect, Khedhir is largely in charge of concept designs for the firm’s retail and residential work. His portfolio includes a string of private residences across the UAE, as well as larger retail and masterplan projects in various cities around the GCC.
“I went to a masterclass on architecture in Australia last year,” he said. “It was led by five powerful architects based in Sydney and they gave us example projects where we had to analyse local culture and land. They taught us about working with the human scale, and why you shouldn’t just aim to be sustainable, but also responsible. That’s what I strive to incorporate in my designs.”
While last year was a monumental one for La Casa with the firm taking on a number of new projects, one particular highlight was the announcement of the Mall of Palestine, which looks to open its doors to the public in the first quarter of 2019.
Set in Ramallah, the Mall of Palestine has political significance and will provide economic support to the local population, as well as a social and entertainment destination.
“Being the first mall in Palestine makes it a big deal,” said Khedhir. “The point is to give the locals a gathering space where they can have a nice experience. When we started to design it, we had to resolve the varying levels of the land first, as well as the movement of visitors. A particular challenge was the access path from the main road to the parking.”
A large structure that consists of varying terraces that overlook the nearby valley as well as the city of Ramallah, the mall also features a large atrium that connects mall-goers inside to views of the surrounding environment.
“After we resolved a number of challenges, we focused on the experience itself,” Khedhir added. “On each level, you have access to the restaurants located along the valley-facing side and they all have open terraces. You also have access to direct views via the atrium. So you have a constant connection to the land and anyone in the mall always has a sense of place.”
The mall consists of four main materials including locally-sourced limestone, wood to reflect Palestine’s olive-tree heritage, aluminium for cladding, and glass.
“I’m very theoretical when I approach my work,” said Khedhir. “According to the Haptic perception, if you feel and touch something, it stays in your mind and you can identify it later. So that’s what we considered when working on this project – it’s what drove us to work with local stone.”