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How Dubai Mall has grown since its 2008 opening

by Neha Bhatia on Nov 6, 2018

Dubai Mall is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month after officially opening on 4 November 2008.
Dubai Mall is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month after officially opening on 4 November 2008.
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Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping centre according to Guinness World Records, and on 4 November 2018, the UAE retail giant officially turned 10 years old. However, the Downtown Dubai facility – which is regularly in the news and a popular Google search term thanks to its Reel Cinemas screens, aquarium, stores, ice rink, and food court – continues to grow through expansion projects supported by developer Emaar Properties, with visitor numbers simultaneously rising.

It is necessary to understand Dubai Mall’s history in order to understand the future plans charted out for the mega-facility in an era where e-commerce websites are globally challenging brick and mortar stores. 

On 31 October 2004, UAE newspaper Gulf News reported that Dutco Balfour Beatty-Al Ghandi and Consolidated Contractors International had been named main contractors for the project through a $735m (AED2.7bn) contract. Turner Construction was picked to project manage the development, for which DPA Singapore and Meinhardt respectively worked as architect and engineering consultant. Then part of the Burj Dubai project masterplan, Dubai Mall was due to feature 111.5ha of total space. 

Today, Dubai Mall features 54.8ha of total internal floor area, with 35ha of gross leasable space. According to its website, the mall includes more than 200 food and beverage (F&B) stores – including local favourites Somewhere, Katsuya, Wagamama and Shake Shack – and 1,300 retail outlets, with Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s anchoring the shopping mall.

In 2012, Emaar announced the opening of an 820m air-conditioned metro link that connects Dubai Mall to the Dubai Metro rail network. In a statement at the time, Emaar said the walkway comprised 10 travellators ranging between 70m and 120m, spanning 1.4m in width. Designed in glass, drawing, and a mashrabiya-style façade, the link, according to one company official at the time, was “a priority” for Emaar.

But what are the major attractions within Dubai Mall, how were they developed, and how many visitors does the mall pull each year? In addition to the F&B and retail outlets, Dubai Mall includes an aquarium with a 270° walkthrough tunnel and the world’s largest window; an Olympic-sized ice rink; the world’s largest indoor gold souk; and a 260m indoor/outdoor streetscape with a fully retractable roof, according to ProTenders. An entertainment space focused on virtual reality and augumented reality named VR Park opened at Dubai Mall this March. 

Moreover, Dubai Mall features “an entertainment centre a 7,432m2 children’s edutainment facility, Kidzania, and Dubai’s largest cineplex, its ProTenders listing shows. Last August, the world’s largest OLED screen, which spans almost 710m2 with a resolution of 1.7 billion pixels, was also unveiled at the mall. The OLED screen above the Dubai Mall aquarium’s main tank also holds Guinness World Records titles for being the highest-resolution video wall and the largest high-definition video wall. These items are in addition to amenities such as free WiFi, a sleeping pod lounge, Emirates Post services, numerous ATMs, and centres of Etisalat, Du, and major including Emirates NBD, HSBC, and First Abu Dhabi Bank. 

READ: Emaar unveils twin-tower Vida Dubai Mall hotel

These attractions and amenities consistently translate into tangible growth for the Dubai Mall team. Nine-month 2018 figures released by Emaar Malls – the majority-owned malls and retail business of Emaar Properties – show that Dubai Mall recorded 60 million in footfall between January and September this year. Emaar Malls said this growth “was driven by the recently expanded Fashion Avenue”, a section that has added 150 international brands and activities to Dubai Mall. 

Additional work planned around Dubai Mall includes the “ongoing Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard expansion that links it to the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, as well as the Fountain Views and Zabeel extensions”, Emaar Malls said. This January, it was revealed that Mammoet had been picked by Eversendai to help erect the Fountain View link bridge at the Dubai Mall extension site. Dubai Mall, in addition to Emaar Malls’ other assets such as Dubai Marina Mall, Souk Al Bahar, Gold and Diamond Park, and its community centres, together attracted 99 million visitors in the first nine months of this year.

Over the years, Dubai Mall has proven to be an excellent case study for design, construction, and facilities management (FM) professionals alike. Take the example of the Apple store at Dubai Mall, a project with which Foster + Partners was involved. The store’s design, according the company’s head of studio, Stefan Behling, is about “bringing to the fore new ideas about the evolving role of Apple flagships in the community”. The Emirati culture-inspired Apple store, located on its first floor and closest to Dubai Mall’s P2 Grand Parking, features kinetic solar wings to shade the outdoor terrace during daytime. The installation is made entirely of lightweight carbon fibre – chosen for its resistance to oxidisation – and each wing has multiple layers of tubes forming a dense net, Construction Week’s sister title Middle East Architect reported last year.

With millions of visitors each month, waste management is a major area of focus for Dubai Mall, which facilitated the production of 26 tonnes of compost from its food outlets last September. Dubai Mall’s soft FM team worked with the mall’s F&B outlets and Suez Middle East Waste Management on the programme. All waste collected from the outlets and the mall’s food court was collected for composting by Tadweer, with the material then used for landscaping at Emaar’s lifestyle communities in Dubai. 

F&B outlets are, in fact, one of the prime examples of Dubai Mall’s waste management efforts. In August 2017, Construction Week’s sister title facilities management Middle East reported that in 2013, the mall invited Tera Axis and five other service providers to clear drainage blockages with biological dosing products. Six restaurants within Dubai Mall were allocated to Tetra for a testing phase, during which grease and fat removal using biological products was trialled, using automatic dosing pumps. 

Commenting on the operation, Tetra’s group managing director, Robin Gibbs, said: “Twenty days into the trials, the camera inspection was repeated and in some cases revealed 100% removal of built up fat, oil and grease. 

“Upon conclusion of the trials – which lasted 30 days – a detailed report was submitted to Emaar for consideration, and subsequently Tetra was invited to propose a solution for grease and fat removal in drain lines for the entire mall.”

Despite global concerns about traditional retail outlets being taken over by online shopping giants, the future looks bright for Dubai Mall, which in the last decade has cemented its position as not just a retail hub, but also an entertainment destination offering world-exclusive opportunities to expat visitors and tourists. These retailer worries are not unfounded when the growth of e-commerce websites is noted – indeed, the Middle East is also witnessing a growing base for online shopping websites such as Amazon’s and – the latter being a product created by Emaar founder Mohamed Alabbar, and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as well as Kuwait’s Alshaya & Co.

However, Dubai Mall – in some ways the centrepiece of Emaar Malls’ portfolio – continues to grow. November 2018 is a busy period for the Dubai Mall management team, with numerous anniversary celebration events planned around occasions such as UAE Flag Day and Diwali for the duration of the month. Considering the mall’s impact on the UAE’s – and the Middle East’s – business communities and societies, it is likely that Dubai Mall’s 10th anniversary is only the first of many milestones that the development will celebrate in the years to come.