Dinglish, or English as spoken in Dubai, has several fascinating phrases and words: chief among them being “parking in the backside” (the rear of the building) and “malling” (the act of killing time in one of the emirate’s mammoth temples of retail therapy).
Shopping is Dubai’s favourite sport – I was cautioned before relocating here. That chestnut ought to be discarded, it’s not so much shopping as it is malling. The latter truly encompasses the whole theatre of human activities played out in a mall. There are shops in malls, yes, but today there are also gyms, crèches, catwalks, extreme sports, performance arenas and aquariums.
As the mercury soars, malls become the place to escape. And economic realities have inserted new functions into these old spaces. People use them as mobile offices: to network and check email. When I stop for a morning coffee, I see mall walkers powerwalking their way through the mall, just before the shops open. In the absence of childcare, one sees teenagers hanging out in the mall after school is over, until their parents can fetch them.
For designers and retailers, it’s a twin challenge. All those footfalls are definitely welcome. Yet will they translate into ringing registers?
No longer is it simply a case of build-it-and-they-will-come. The cavernous new “gold souk” within the Dubai Mall barely attracts a handful of shoppers every day. Yet despite a bad economy, the traditional 80-year-old gold souk located besides the Dubai creek, continues to be vibrant.
Perhaps the lesson for the designers of future mall developments is that big is not necessarily better. (It’s definitely not more sustainable.) With consumer demand down, people are more likely to trade in looks for value. Good design recognises these paradigm shifts in public consciousness. The Hummer’s future is uncertain, as are the other symbols of profligacy.
Shalaka Paradkar is an architect, who also builds sentences.
By SHALAKA PARADKAR