Zeinab Saiwalla visits The Galleria at Sowwah Square to get a sneak preview of Abu Dhabi’s newest shopping mall, designed to become a landmark in the city’s up and coming commercial business district
Almost every new building aspires to have a unique selling point, one that will attract visitors in droves and hopefully receive accolades from around the world. Dubai Mall has its size to boast, Burj Khalifa, its height, Cayan Tower, its twisting structure and Mall of the Emirates, an indoor ski slope.
The Galleria, located on Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi, which is set to open its doors on August 6th, is banking on its one-of-a-kind, $25 million roof structure, designed by world-famous architectural firm RFR, and an ultra luxury tenant-list to attract throngs of shoppers from across the UAE.
Currently, Sowwah Square comprises of four commercial towers, already home to a mix of blue-chip global and regional companies including Deloitte and JP Morgan, the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, and the Rosewood Abu Dhabi hotel.
“The idea is that when this whole thing gels together, The Galleria will be the one development that connects everything else together. Its purpose is to create harmony between all the buildings in Sowwah Square and to create a symbiotic relationship,” explains Andrew Tonner, senior vice president, project management, Gulf Related.
Designed by Elkus Manfredi and Benoy, The Galleria will feature a prestigious mix of retailers alongside a comprehensive F&B offering, including signature chef-driven and fine-dining restaurants like Zuma and Almaz by Momo.
Although the mall is situated in the heart of Sowwah Square, surrounded by commercial towers
and financial organisations, The Galleria’s target audience is not just limited to the professionals working in these buildings.
Rather, as Tonner explains, the aspiration for the project is to have it become an icon for the city.
“What we are trying to create here is a venue that will become a noted location. You will not just meet your friends at The Galleria. You are going to be in our great room and it will be like saying ‘I will meet you at Trafalgar Square.’”
The underlying reason for this, as Tonner lets known during the interview was to “build something that stops the hemorrhaging to other malls, but predominantly to Dubai.”
He continues: “The people have seen the products in magazines and they want to buy these luxury items, but they want it at their doorstep. We are simply responding to the market place but we had to create an environment that was commensurate with the luxury aspirations of the people, and I truly think that we have done it.”
Right from the onset, when Abu Dhabi-based Gulf Related joined Mubadala Real Estate & Infrastructure (MREI) to co-develop The Galleria in 2011, they envisioned to transform the 33,000 m2 plot allocated for a retail complex in Sowwah Square into a luxury shopping and dining development.
“We know from our past developments, such as the Time Warner Centre in New York City, that strong designs have the power to anchor new structures into their urban surroundings. This is why we felt strongly about creating a sculptural, iconic blueprint for The Galleria and an architecturally significant place for visitors,” explains Kevin A. Ryan, managing director, development, Gulf Related.
However, as Tonner explains, this was not part of Mubadala’s original vision for the mall. “When Mubadala announced their plan for Sowwah Square in 2008, they were looking for The Galleria to be a secondary retail development, to offer supporting services to the surrounding commercial towers.”
He adds: “Prior to our being here, the site would have been flat retail land but what we have done is to create a sense of arrival, a feature for the development that creates a hallmark, a unique selling point that is quite dramatic in itself and more luxurious. It is part of our brand and marketing,” explains Tonner.
Although the plan was to create something upscale, Tonner highlights that the team did not want a grandiose development. “It is not a Dubai Mall ostentatious thing but it is something more playful and illuminated. The effect with the roof is almost like a halo sitting on top of the development. It is elegant and beautiful, not showy.”
To achieve this magical effect, Gulf Related specifically chose RFR as the roof designer owing to the latter’s experience with iconic projects, such as the inverted pyramid of Le Musee du Louvre in Paris and Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“When we went to RFR, we said create for us something that is different and special, something that will create a unique selling point for the project,” explains Tonner. “We used someone very experienced in the field, somebody who has got exquisite knowledge and capability which is why RFR was selected. We did not necessarily go and bid for this project. We went and handpicked the consultant we wanted to work with.”
“The brief revealed a strong wish for a delicate-looking aesthetics appearing to stretch seamlessly from landscaping to sky while complementing high-end retailers located below in the great room,” explains Jean Le Lay, director, RFR.
To create the iconic roof, RFR and Gulf Related spent close to four months discussing precise details such as the shape of each piece in the structure, to the perfect colour for the roof. Eventually the team decided on a structure comprised entirely of steel and glass and a design inspired from snakeskin texture.
“What we wanted was for this space to be light, elegant and airy but because the environment is very aggressive – it is right beside the sea and there is a lot of sand in the air, so we had to use steel,” explains Tonner. “But we did not want the horrible silver colored steel, so we choose to have it coated with polyester in this spectacular shade of gold.”
Selecting the right shade of gold, too, was no simple process as Tonner explains. After short listing 12 shades of gold from the color palette, the team built 10m by 10m mock-ups of the structure in each of the dozen colors to be sure of how the roof would come to look.
The perfect shade was eventually chosen after both the CEO of Mubadala and Gulf Related observed the mock-ups under different lighting conditions and chose the colour which was most appropriate for their vision.
“We were very particular about the colour because did not want it to be too ostentatious, showy or gaudy. We do not want people saying that it is a gold leaf or for it to give a wrong impression. We wanted it to be very tasteful because this is the centerpiece and there is no question about it. This draws the whole thing together,” explains Tonner.