Dubai Boxpark: Shopping among the shipping containers

From food to funky art, these store interiors reflect the factory-chic design of BoxPark, the latest Dubai development to emphasise walkability.

Dubai’s BoxPark, along Al Wasl Road, has a mix of boutique stores and food and beverage outlets – all constructed using shipping containers. It stands in stark contrast to the city’s familiar malls – while still focusing on high-end eateries and retail outlets the whole concept reflects a different environment and landscape – young, vibrant and pulsing with street-level energy.

Currently 39 of the 44 premises are occupied with the others all leased to companies which will move in during the coming weeks. With the aim of “lending personality to the high street” and intended to attract “the young and young at heart with a hip, youthful and unique ambiance” the Meraas development runs for 1.2km along the street.

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A spokesman for the project said: “BoxPark is inspired by urban renewal projects, combining the finest in contemporary architecture with the aesthetics of warehouse containers.

“An industrial character dominates the project’s design across all its aspects, including the fixtures and open spaces. BoxPark is Meraas’ latest offering in Dubai’s high street retail and outdoor dining experience.”

The containers, which form much of the building designs, are multi-coloured and some are illuminated at night. Further lighting is placed on tree-like structures which line the pedestrianised area. A sign saying BoxPark welcomes visitors to the site and it also includes small outdoor recreation open spaces with some children’s play equipment.

Amjad Malki opened his store Urbanist in the park. It sells art pieces and designer goods, both contemporary and more than a century old.

“The BoxPark concept matches our DNA,” he said. “It reflects a local lifestyle, not just Middle Eastern and not purely Western. That is our business concept as well. We first looked to establish a presence in Al Quoz in Dubai because that had the right feel, urban, using box shaped designs and concrete. But then we found out about the development and realised it was a perfect match. Our concept just would not work in a mall or villa.”

The industrial design of the building’s interior reflects the overall urban concept of the park. Containers are used for fitting rooms and the partitions can be moved to accommodate new displays “so that the customers don’t get bored”, according to Malki.

The Décor of the premises reflects the old and the new – from an Ottoman Turkish era full-length mirror embossed with the crest of the sultan and a traditional home fountain, imported from a Syrian home, to contemporary lighting fittings inlaid with the Arabian Gulf’s traditional mother-of pearl.

“Each piece on show has a history,” said Malki. “From hand sewn Palestinian furniture coverings to individually decorated elephant sculptures, sold with some of the profi going to a charity established when its founder witnessed an elephant with a foot blown off by a landmine.

“The fountain is made from stone quarried close to Damascus and is complemented by organic soap – handmade to a formula which dates back 500 years. The showroom has a modular design, which can flow and change when needed,” said Malki.

Syrian architect Michael Zayat contributed a chair design to the décor with artist Fadi Yazigi decorating it.

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Restaurants are a major feature of the BoxPark project with one unusual outlet being Bubbelology which takes a laboratory style design to the traditional tearoom – creating a blend of scientists lair and café – with its own “Bubbleologist” to mix the drinks.

“The brand was inspired by the science required for the creation of a Bubbleology tea,” said a company spokesperson. “Exact ratios of tea leaves and brewing temperatures are required, in addition to the skilled mixology process behind the drink and the technique of creating perfect tapioca. It’s all good fun, but we came up with this because making the perfect cup of bubble tea really is a science.”

Kouai is a Chinese restaurant which fuses tradition and modernity.

“We looked for a concept which fitted both Dubai and the BoxPark itself,” said Ann Overwater, who has worked on the project since its initial concept.

“We wanted the feeling of walking down a side street in Beijing and seeing the art to be what the visitor experienced. So we used Atelier 17, a Dubai-based art studio and they had the challenge of interpreting both contemporary and traditional designs – street art to Chinese dragon symbols. Then they painted on industrial materials such as steel and wood.”

Visitors to the development said it was not something they expected to see in the city.

“It’s a whole new Dubai – in fact in many ways it remains me of where I live,” said tourist Laura Childs who comes from New York City.

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