Talk of the Town
The Avenues, Kuwait City’s newly expanded retail destination, is redefining the shopping experience in the Gulf region and internationally, adding urbanity to the retail experience. Kuwait-based developer Mabanee asked Gensler to design the massive addition, with more than 400 stores and 40 cafés and restaurants that nearly double the size of the complex. Catering to the social nature of shopping in Kuwait, the Gensler-designed Phase III feels more like a city than a retail center.
Image: Shopping in Kuwait has a strong social component, with groups of people arranging to meet at shopping centers and stroll through together — almost like spending a leisurely day at the park.
Located in the city’s Al Rai district, The Avenues first opened in 2007 with 230 retail units. Phase II was completed a year later, adding 200 more luxury shops and outdoor dining spots. As Mabanee Chairman Mohammed A. Alshaya explains, The Avenues is a key project in a national plan “to transform Kuwait into a business center and trade region.” The Gensler-designed Phase III expansion, which opened in late 2012, raises the bar much higher. “After Alshaya searched the world for a design partner, he concluded that Gensler had both the design sensibility and expertise to create the largest shopping destination in Kuwait,” says Gensler’s co-CEO Andy Cohen.
Alshaya was a key collaborator in generating the idea for a walkable, urban shopping experience. “He had a clear vision of what he wanted — a major thoroughfare similar to the Champs-Élysées or Rodeo Drive, where people can walk along a promenade and enjoy the sense that they’re outdoors,” says Gensler’s Chris Johnson. Rather than approach the project as a huge collection of brands, the design team planned The Avenues for urbanity, building on the principles of placemaking.
Early in the process, Gensler’s design team set out to study the world’s most iconic retail settings. They analyzed many celebrated shopping destinations — including Paris, London, New York, Istanbul, Milan and Tokyo — in an effort to redefine contemporary retail by examining how urban retail has succeeded in the past. “We looked at character, atmosphere and place, and then turned our attention to proportion, materiality and finishes,” notes Gensler’s Peter Sheard.
Using their research as a springboard, the designers explored options for a central promenade based on historical precedents like Barcelona’s sinuous Las Ramblas and Copenhagen’s walkable Stroget district. The intention was to create a shopping destination that appears to have evolved incrementally. In the end, the prototype of a Parisian boulevard won the day, inspiring Grand Avenue, the main pedestrian spine and largest retail district.
To humanize The Avenues’ scale and enrich the customer experience, Gensler divided the project into six distinct districts. While Grand Avenue sets the overarching theme, featuring retail façades that blend European, regional and contemporary styles, the other districts are designed so that each has a character all its own. That’s part of the retail center’s entertainment appeal.
Other districts include The Mall, which links the new addition to the existing sections and provides a wide selection of fashions and jewelry. The SoKu — South of Kuwait — district borrows from New York’s SoHo with an urban vibe and numerous cafés, bistros and eateries to attract young, trendy consumers. The subterranean Bazaar district, with 34 retail units amid vaulted walkways and colonnaded shops, draws inspiration from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. The Prestige district, with its soaring central dome, is home to high-end brands. Small retailers thrive in The Souk, a district whose old-style buildings and narrow streets invoke the region’s traditions.
The Power of Collaboration
Given the scale and complexity of The Avenues, Gensler assembled a team of specialists from its offices around the world to tackle the project. “The outcome is the result of the best type of cross-disciplinary expertise and collaboration that Gensler offers,” notes Chris Johnson.
Gensler’s master planning group and landscape architects led the early design phases, assisted by a core group of urban designers, architects and retail experts. Working collaboratively, the team shaped the districts as though they were building a city. “We paid attention to how the pathways and open spaces orient people to the surroundings, and how the juncture of streets made memorable places like Times Square or Piccadilly Circus,” says Sheard, a landscape architect.
To simplify navigation through the expansive mall, Gensler brand designers and environmental designers unified each district with custom graphics and easy-to-understand wayfinding solutions. Like a city neighborhood, The Avenues features environmental markers and distinct graphic patterns that help shoppers find their way.
While the client liked the feeling of an open-air environment, the hot Kuwaiti climate dictated that the high-end mall be enclosed to keep inside temperatures comfortable. Now a transparent roof made of a high-strength plastic covers the circulation spaces. Known as ETFE, the recyclable plastic film is far lighter than glass, transmits more daylight and costs much less to install.
But the material’s advantages aren’t just functional. It also delivered huge revenue potential to Mabanee, because the covering permitted the circulation ways to be counted as open space instead of as enclosed, built space. That meant that it was not included in calculating the site’s allowable square footage, giving the client a substantial reserve of site area they can put to future use, says Gensler’s George Miller-Ramos.
The Place to Be
Now that the new districts have opened for business, The Avenues is the place to be in Kuwait, says Miller-Ramos. “It’s the talk of the town.” The launch of Phase III, which coincided with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s constitution, saw a number of The Avenues’ stores break their sales records. “Without question, The Avenues’ expansion has raised the bar for retail development in the Gulf,” he adds.
The Avenues exceeded Mabanee’s expectations even before it was open, the company reported, with more than 85 percent of the new tenant space preleased. Buoyed by that success, Gensler is already hard at work designing the next phases of development.
Vernon Mays (Gensler Firmwide Communications)
John Parman (Gensler Firmwide Communications)
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Matthew Richardson (Gensler Firmwide Communications)
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