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The Avenues

NORR Group's newest project redefines the souq in Kuwait.

The undulating roof and modern materials contrast the landscaping and water elements. (ArabianEye.com)
The undulating roof and modern materials contrast the landscaping and water elements. (ArabianEye.com)

NORR Group's newest project redefines the souq in Kuwait.

Designed to "elevate the shopping experience" in Kuwait and set benchmarks throughout the industry, The Avenues is a unique collaboration between leading Kuwaiti real estate developer and investment company, Mabanee, and NORR Group Consultants International Ltd., Dubai.

Currently embarking on its third of four phases of development, the US$2 billion mixed-use project will encompass 425,000m2 and include space for a fully-functioning convention centre, state-of-the-art business centre, hotels, offices and 15,000 parking spaces.

Paying homage to the region's history of market economics, The Avenues is one of the largest leisure and retail destinations in the Middle East, and its 222 stores and 39 restaurants represent a veritable Who's Who of the retail and gastronomic industries.

The Avenues, however, is more than just a shopping mall; it is more than a place for teens to play video games and find the latest fashions. Inherent in the concept of a marketplace in the Middle East is the notion of social connection.

Historically located on the outskirts of larger towns, souqs were a place for caravans to rest and merchants to display their wares while trading for travel necessities. Souqs began as common centres of commerce, where goods from near and far could be bought, sold or bargained. Eventually, the concept of a souq evolved into something more.

Traditional market functions in the souqs became secondary to the connectedness of the community.

People would come together to do their weekly bidding, but more importantly, to interact with their community and take part in social and cultural festivals.

Still today, the souq is many things to many people. Amman's Wednesday Market specializes in the sale of used products; Baghdad's Ghazl market specializes in pets; Marrakech's Fina'a Market offers myriad festivities like singing, music, acrobats and snake charmers.

As the Kuwaiti summer sizzles and families seek refuge from sweltering ambient temperatures, The Avenues, just as the souqs that came before it, is providing that forum for social interaction.

More than a mall

An active member of the Kuwaiti community, The Avenues supports charitable, welfare and social initiatives and has hosted a wide range of cultural events that promote a greater connection to Islam.

On October 1, 2007, for example, The Avenues hosted an event for more than 4,000 children and their parents to mark Girgeaan, the 14th and 15th days of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

In March 2008, The Avenues honoured more than 2,000 mothers with a red rose in appreciation of the Kuwaiti Mother's Day celebrations; in April 2008, Dutch NGO Blooming For Life hosted a 7-day indoor flower exhibition to help raise money for the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society; June 2008 saw The Avenues play host to its second Sweet Hearts blood drive and awareness campaign.

Events at The Avenues also attempt to bridge the gap between the local community and Kuwait's ever-growing ex-pat population. For example, March 2008's Francofolly was Kuwait's first large scale French cultural and commercial festival; May/June 2008, on the other hand, witnessed Kuwait's first Made in Italy week in collaboration with the Italian Trade Commission.

In addition to the symbolic multiculturalism of some of the initiatives inside The Avenues, the venue is no stranger to catering to visiting heads of state. In December 2007 and February 2008, the presidents of the Philippines and Seychelles, respectively, were received by senior executives of Mabanee and The Avenues and given first-class tours of the premises.

3-Layered conceptual design

Designed to reflect the undulating forms and chunky rock formations of the surrounding desertscape, The Avenues may sets new standards in contemporary retail architecture in the region.

Its cultural impact notwithstanding, the form of the massive structure is unprecedented for a country that's most recognisable icons-though futuristic statements in their own right-are water towers that were built in 1979.

According to Yahya Jan, vice president and design director at NORR, the project was conceived as three interdependent and interactive levels.

"The sweeping curvilinear forms of the ground plane evoke the regional desert landscape of rolling sand dunes, while creating uniquely designed exterior spaces."

The first aspect of Jan's design involved the manipulation of the ground plane with bands of undulating forms running along the length of the site.

From a conceptual perspective, the project has been conceived as a series of bands running east/west through the length of the development.

Each band contains a different element-the main access corridor, car parking, the building core, park land and screening buffers. Tree lines, parks and other natural features define many of the bands and enable the built forms to sit comfortably within their surroundings.

This close relationship between architectural and natural forms blurs the boundary between indoor and outdoor spaces, creating uniquely designed landscape spaces both within the mall and in the surrounding landscape.

"The monumental forms of the buildings allude to the Kuwaiti desert's natural granite hills, boulders and rocky outcroppings," explains Jan. The biggest challenge faced by Jan and his team was to develop the building's exterior using the materials, colours and textures of the desert forms.

The gently arcing forms of the skylight and baffles comprise the third and final layer of the design concept. "These forms are abstracted representations of clouds moving across the desert sky," says Jan.

Moving from the built environment to the natural one, Jan and his team carefully considered the materials that would most effectively make the transition.

"Elemental landscape lighting such as illuminated walls and grassy dunes near the roadside increase the impression of arrival to this retail development," he explains. "Stone textures and facades are articulated using applied washes of light and also from concealed luminaries."

The play of light on the construction elements was a crucial one for the NORR team. "The roof skylights are designed with partly opaque ceramic frit patterns to only allow sunlight at the highest level of the mall where the architectural detail is a faceted continuation of the exterior stonework," explains Jan. "By evening, the cloud-like solid roof elements are bathed in a deep blue light, alluding to the cool desert night sky of the region."

Design & construction challenges

Despite the size, scale and first-ever status of The Avenues, the project was put on a fast-track construction schedule, which proved a considerable challenge for contractors in Kuwait.

Moreover, NORR, the project's lead design architect and engineer, insisted on the use of international codes and standards, which also put it in a position to play an active role in the administration of construction on site.

"This project was a big challenge and an opportunity for Mabanee. The Avenues represents our will to meet and overcome these challenges," says Fatma Al Bader, CEO of Mabanee.

To address the logistical challenges of working on a Kuwaiti project from its offices in Dubai, key members of NORR's architect/engineering team were transferred to Kuwait for a period of two years.

This allowed the NORR design teams in both Dubai and Kuwait to actively oversee the review of construction details, specialist shop drawings and materials, and ensure that the design intent of the project was implemented in the final details.

Not only did The Avenues rewrite the usual specifications for a retail project, it required significant understanding and flexibility from local authorities. For example, The Avenues is a retail/commercial development that sits directly in an area zoned for industrial use.

Given the fact that some of its key international brands are supermarkets, department stores and multi-screen theatres, the overall building height of The Avenues exceeded the accepted zoning limits of the area. Moreover, the high footfall inherent in this type of mixed-use development, required direct vehicular access from the highway, which didn't exist previous to the Norr Group's arrival on the project.

Recipe for success

There is no disputing that The Avenues is an architectural endeavour unlike anything seen in Kuwait. Its ambitious mixture of natural and synthetic architectural elements, engineering complexity and multifaceted collaboration are components usually linked to higher profile international cities.

Be that as it may, within the Kuwaiti context, The Avenues is a groundbreaking retail and entertainment venue that announces Kuwait's intention to take seriously a commitment to enhancing its economic standing in the regional and international arena.

"[His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah's] vision is aimed at raising Kuwait's position as the region's premier financial and business hub and an attractive destination for foreign direct investment," says Mohammed Abdulaziz Alshaya, Chairman of Mabanee and M.H. Alshaya Company. "Mabanee's goal is to contribute to the country's overall development."

The Avenues' combination of interior and exterior programmed spaces and the use of landscaping and lighting as a unifying element of the design have combined to create a unique landmark for Kuwait.

With its wide range of retail, entertainment, tourism and culinary options, The Avenues redefines the souq concept in Kuwait by mimicking the natural landscape and becoming a favoured destination for families, merchants and investors.

Successful collaboration between NORR and its landscaping, lighting and retail merchandising consultants allowed the team to challenge conventional retail planning in Kuwait.

And, it's that level of collaboration that Manabee is looking to duplicate in expanding cities throughout the Middle East.

"The Avenues is part of the company's comprehensive vision, we are committed to launching large-scale developments across the region," says Fatma Al Bader, CEO of Mabanee.

Fact file

Total retail space: 1,388,308 ft2

Gross Leaseable Area: (small shop space excluding anchors) 685,710 ft2

Total number of retail stores: (excluding anchors) 215

Total number of retail stores: (including anchors) 222

Population of primary trade area: 3.2million people

Population of secondary trade area: 3.2million people LLP

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