Building projects from scratch might be relatively rare in some markets, but not in the Middle East, observers say. Growth is so robust in the region, in fact, that CallisonRTKL’s office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has grown from about six people to roughly 70 over these past three years alone, according to Harold Thompson, a vice president at that international architecture firm and the director of its Dubai-based operations. “Focusing on retail and retail mixed-use, in particular, has been very productive for us in the region,” he said.
Developers and architects are flocking also to Abu Dhabi as well as Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to capitalize on the demand for new projects, Thompson says. “Qatar, for example, is a small country — about 2 million people — but it has the highest-per-capita GDP in the world, at about $100,000 per person,” he said. “The spending power is tremendous.” And both Saudi Arabia and Egypt boast burgeoning populations that are particularly underserved by retail. “Egypt has 80 million people, and something like 75 percent of the population is under the age of 25,” Thompson said. “It’s an incredibly big and young market. A lot of our development clients here are traveling to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”
And despite the presence of such massive properties as the 5.9 million-square-foot Dubai Mall and the 2.4 million-square-foot Mall of the Emirates, Dubai keeps ramping up its retail offerings. Indeed, developer Mizoon Holdings is billing one of its latest Dubai projects as an alternative to the city’s megamalls; set to open in the first quarter of 2017, the 140,000-square-foot Esplanade is located across from Mall of the Emirates. Its open-air design will make it a popular gathering place at night, when the temperatures in Dubai are cooler, says Gar Muse, a principal of architecture firm Cooper Carry’s retail specialty practice group. “There are 10 individual retail buildings at the Esplanade,” he said. “They actually aren’t connected connected to each other, which has allowed us to create spaces in between them.”
About 70 percent of the tenants at the Esplanade will be restaurants or food vendors, and a plaza will front the development’s collection of clean, white buildings, some of which will offer open-air dining and traditional smoking areas. “I don’t think we will see many properties in Dubai with this level of detailing and material use,” Muse said. “The Esplanade is intended to be very unique.”
Of course, larger projects are on the drawing board too for this Arabian Desert metropolis. Emaar Properties’ massive Dubai Creek Harbour, for one, will be a city unto itself when it is finally completed, says Thompson. “CallisonRTKL has been working on the master plan for about three years now,” he said. “It will have a really large retail component.” Plans for the nearly 1,500-acre site include 39,000 homes, 22 hotels and the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers. Said Thompson: “It is probably one of the biggest developments in the world.”