Close to Abu Dhabi, in the city of Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates, SMA proposed the architectural design for a new shopping center intended to become an urban landmark in this Arab city.
Thanks to its location, climatic conditions and its important natural environment—which brings together the largest number of oases in the region—Al-Ain is the ideal place to rethink and transform the usual idea of a shopping center towards an integral project that incorporates more uses and experiences for users.
Local features, such as oases, vernacular irrigation systems (falaj), flora and architecture, dictated the design guidelines for the project. The result was a contemporary reinterpretation of traditional Arabic architecture, which reflects the natural characteristics of this inland site.
This proposal strengthens the commercial project by means of the recreation of an oasis—as a place of refuge and respite for the city—adding an art gallery to the architectural program, as well as new cultural and social experiences to occupy a shopping center: exhibition areas, terraces, activations, fairs and events.
The volumetry is generated by adopting the principal axes of the previous architecture, and where they intersect a natural open space is proposed that reproduces an oasis in form and concept. Around this space, the commercial program is integrated into the whole complex by means of a three-story volume in the shape of a horseshoe.
Inside, seeking to create the best shopping experience, the passageways for the stores were designed in linear fashion, with the purpose of creating midpoints that act as sites of encounter. Within these open inner courtyards, a small-scale oasis is recreated by means of water channels (falaj) and native vegetation.
The whole project is housed under an envelope that reinterprets elements of traditional Arab architecture; a modular prefabricated roof with arches that follow the measurements of the existing architecture, and endow it with an aesthetic character.
The roof, as the principal visual and construction element, is designed in line with climate control and architectural concepts from the region, including sustainable strategies for the comfort of users. An example of this is the perforations in the roof that cover the passive natural ventilation and lighting systems.