By September 26, 2009 23 Comments

The image below is of the street face of AlRaya. I’m certain that many of you have had this same thought; why have the developers of AlRaya completely wasted this wonderful opportunity? The pavement, which is actually of great quality and well maintained, is yearning for action. There are shops, cafes and restaurants right on the other side of that wall that would benefit immensely if only that wall did not exist. What happened?
Looking through one of those windows you notice that directly behind the wall is a service corridor. Imagine that; the best and most expensive potential real estate of the entire building has been wasted on a service corridor. I tried to get in there to have a look. As you’d expect, it was being used as secondary storage and waste removal for the shop owners. I don’t think that having a service corridor is such a critical element that it should be a priority even in a side alley, let alone along one of the most important pedestrian roads in Kuwait. What makes this worse is that this is on the north face of the building, meaning that the mass of AlRaya would actually block the sun and the outdoor space would mostly be in shade during the afternoon. That would be an advantage during winter, but even today at night the weather was beautiful and I can easily imagine it being filled with hip and trendy outdoor activities (or just boring but profitable cafes). It would benefit AlRaya by getting in more pedestrian traffic and increasing the rent for those street facing shops, while benefiting the city by adding more activity and enriching the pedestrian lifestyle.
I really don’t understand how this decision was made. What would be the advantage to the way it’s set up now? Other than the pointless service corridor there isn’t any reason for this. I’m inclined to suggest that the architect simply had this preconceived notion that AlRaya would be an introspective mall that is just totally sealed off from its site. The irony is that on the other side of the building, between the parking structure and the mall, AlRaya are trying their best to achieve that same kind of outdoor pedestrian activity that can happen at the front but failed miserably. That space is always dead, even though it’s shaded and clean. It’s just a dumb, wasteful and frankly arrogant decision. It’s not too late to tear that wall down. I have a sledgehammer they can borrow.

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    If i would add such a space it won’t be towards the street side, but rather on the plaza side opposite the parking building. Barrak, I think you need to understand how malls are designed. They ignore their surroundings, creating sheltered shopping spaces. I enjoyed the photoshop enhanced image of what might happen if only, but the street it self needs to be connected. This wouldn’t be as successful as one might think if only AlRaya have that activity and the rest of that street serves as a mobile and auto parts shops. I can’t see what’s exciting on this side.
    The plaza however is a failure, even though they opened two cafes in it, shaded, planted and confined. Yet because it is disconnected from the mall it is completely useless.
    Maybe your image can help the developer to enhance the plaza.

  • What? 😀
    Sorry, but I really don’t agree with you at all. I hope you’re being sarcastic saying this is ‘how malls are designed’. Also, why would you think that the rest of the street wouldn’t change? If there was action and activity, i’d imagine people would want to tap into that. You’d find investors would rent the space across the street and open quirky restaurants or shops. They don’t have to pay outrageous rents that they would in AlRaya, but they would still get their walking traffic from the people in those new AlRaya street cafes. Why do we accept the notion that malls have to be insular? You’re describing big box stores that are in the middle of nowhere, islands of shopping in a sea of parking. AlRaya is not in the middle of nowhere. It’s right in the heart of Kuwait City. It has no right to reject that context.
    Edit: How would this be any different from what they did in AlSalhiya? You love that place. How is this different? I’d argue that it might even be more succesful because of what will happen in that street in the next few years; AlHamra on one end, and United Tower at the other.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Alsalhiya plaza is completely disconnected by several built barriers from the mall which is introverted in character like any other mall. I see what you’re trying to do, however, that street is hostile for pedestrians.
    A better case is Albedea. Over there are lots of cafes and restaurants, yet they look over a parking, but that parking is a prime reason for the success of that space, why? cause those people arriving at that parking are welcomed, people looking at other people.
    Another case is the old shops in front of Al Seef Palace, again same story, upscale restaurants and cafes in an old structure, yet they are sheltered by the parking which welcomes people seeking the same experience.
    Your example of AlSalhiya plaza works well in between the parking building and AlRaya mall itself. They need to fix that space first, cause in my view it needs fixing.
    The Shuhada street have an established trade over there, mainly auto parts shops and mobile shops. I agree some of the shops have changed function but not enough to create a flow. I fear since AlRaya is stuck on a main traffic street with no services street of its own, a design mistake if you ask me, this might work yet I’m not sure how well would that be?
    proportions are important, AlShuhada street is just too busy and too wide with lots of reckless drivers that creates a bad experience rather than a pleasant one.
    The case for Second Cup and Caribu in front of the stock exchange is another example of how, if the proportions are correct, things can be different.
    For your proposal to work, maybe a different kind of trade might take place, a trade that engages people yet wont fit as a dining out experience. What would that trade be that can both fit the high standards of AlRaya and the community there, I wonder?
    I’m enjoying our debate here 😀

    • I agree with you on some points, and you make a good point in saying that Shuhada street might be too hectic for this, but I think we’re having a fundamental disagreement on one specific issue:
      I think we’re disagreeing on the issue of causality. I want to design elements that promote and incentivize walkability. You want to find locations that already have some sort of a pedestrian-friendly character and try to find ways to further exploit that. Those two ideas seem similar, but they’re not. One creates walkabilty, and the other is caused by it. They both work, but I feel that we need to emphasize on creating pedestrian networks.
      Your specific examples are all valid, and developing them to be more walkable is great. However, these are all isolated pockets of goodness that are not connected to each other. They are not part of a network. Shuhada Street has great potential to be the main pedestrian spine of New Kuwait City. With the so many incredibly dense towers coming online in the next few years, it’s going to be very, very crowded; not just cars, but people too. Looking back at the ‘Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’ video I posted a few weeks ago, you notice that lunchtime rush hour is when all the pedestrian activity really happens.
      Let’s imagine that all the proposed and under construction projects are completed and are now mature and fully operational. You would have close to 50,000 working in that walkable area. Where would they go at lunchtime? It’s not going to be isolated buildings along a simple linear strip, as in Sheikh Zayed Road, but rather dispersed along a more complex yet far denser network. Walking patterns will emerge based on demand (for parking, amenities, comfort, etc) that can’t be planned and is unpredictable, but it will happen all over. Shuhada Street is at the heart of all this; maybe not now, but definitely in 5, 10 years.
      About AlRaya, there are lots of ways to shield the strip from the street noise (shrubs, planters, etc) and the pavement is wide enough to have almost any storefront activity to happen. I don’t care what they do as long as it’s not a service corridor. I think we can all agree that the way it is now is just stupid and wasteful.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Forgot to add, Both AlHamra and United tower are a bit too far stretched to create your flow. More buildings need to be built to create a more enjoyable walking experience.
    And, malls have always been designed to be insular, it is the main reason of their creation. New understanding and better design decisions are needed to mesh them with their surroundings, like how The avenues have done with its park and water features and the new 360 mall done as well.
    I think things will change slower than one would hope, but at least they’re happening.
    BTW, both Alhamra and united Tower are introverted malls.

    • I agree that those two specifically are too far away from each other, but you can still walk from one to the other. This benefits everything in between (including AlRaya). The overall density won’t emerge overnight, but the demand for pedestrian friendly activities has to be there from the start. Judging from the design response of AlRaya, it isn’t. That mentality has to change if we want progress.

  • Victoria says:

    I would like to discuss something important to you three (Barrak, Jasem and Amenah) by e-mail. Could you please give me your e-mail addresses or a way to contact you in a non-posting way? My e-mail address is victoriabroadinq8@gmail.com. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

  • Bu Yousef says:

    I hope they listen and do it… We need more outdoor areas. I’m in Paris as I write this comment and it’s impressive how much respect they devote to the view of a street.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Barrak I agree with you on most of your points and we both agree, a service corridor is a terrible. I enjoy having shops on the street in a more direct way, i.e. old Burjuman mall in Dubai. Not sure what would happen there though, but that’s beside the point.
    You touch on a very important point here, density. We in Kuwait lack it, and if you study old cities around the world, from Cairo, Damascus, Paris, London, and even New york, you would realize how dense the urban fabric is and thus that creates a natural pedestrian experience. It is because of density shade is created and urban renovation and regeneration happens, since developers and merchants have no place to go. A good example is the restaurants in front of AlSeef Palace.
    We agree and disagree and I am enjoying that.

  • Abdulla says:

    Well, my assumption for such a design/layout is that the pedestrian corridor on the inside between the shops is government property just like the Salhiya complex . So, if that long corridor is government land the only way they can probably maximise retail space to make maximum profit is by this layout. The alternative plan of the current design would be having the storage area/corridor which is now facing the main street shifted to be along the inner walking corridor facing the chops on the oppposite side. So looking from the street inwards “through the walls” you will have the pavement – Shop – Corridor/storage – walking corridor for shoppers – shop – corridor/storage – Plaza. Sorry, but the is the best way I can explain my point.

  • bumo says:

    The wind around that mall is unbearable… while moving some student models for an exhibition a few years back the wind blew over the designed structure we had and shattered everything underneath. The same goes for the part behind it, the wind running between the car park and tower was so strong that it tore down the anchor points holding apart the tensile structure there. They had to rebuild the tensile shading devices.

  • Tthe buildings create a natural wind tunnel, but it’s the fact that most of the material used has very little friction (marble, etc) and doesn’t slow down the wind. If there were trees planted on either side of the street, that might slow down the wind at the ground plane. I doubt if it would do that sufficiently so that it’s not a threat, but it would help. Microclimates are very unpredictable, especially in trying to identify potential wind funnels and heat sinks and such. It does worry me that nobody has ever really taken this into consideration, and I doubt that any sort of regulation exists that tries to help reduce this.
    Urban heat island‘ is a very serious issue that has to be regulated.

  • Mark says:

    Al Bustan shopping mall in Salem Mubarek Street was dead until they decided to open up the side of the mall facing the street and put chairs and tables outside. Now its always packed with people sitting outside the cafes enjoying the weather and watching people walk and drive by. I also believe the mall has had an increase in foot traffic because of this. No one wants to walk into a dead mall but now because of the street coffee shops it seems more alive.

  • Mark says:

    Jasem, regarding your comment that people would like to overlook the parking. I don’t think it work with Al Raya because unlike the other parking lots you gave examples of none of them were 6 stories high. No one wants to sit outside and stare at a 6 story parking lot, the space between Al Raya and the parking lot is dead space and very claustrophobic. A good example of similar space is the area outside Salhiya. The area on the side of Salhiya (outside the door near starbucks, opposite tanagra). It’s dark, dead and not comforting at all.

  • bumo says:

    btw its spelt Arraya Mall… 😛

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Mark, I never said people like to over look the parking, I said that people don’t mind overlooking the parking at curtain spaces because its friendly. I agree that the Arraya plaza is dead because of many reasons, one of which is the parking building, that’s why I am asking for solutions to that problem to reactivate it.
    The fact of the matter, in his post, Barrak simply assumes that it would work, and I don’t think that life is just black and white, if you built it they would come. I think it needs far more than simply having shops on the street side to make it successful. Density is key, people need to feel safe and enclosed. Perhaps creating an outdoor space rather than simply knocking down a wall and creating more shops. Something that is more original and far more defined.

    • See, it’s not an either-or; either it works, or it doesn’t. Density is absolutely key, but what is good density? There’s no line between bad density and good density. There might be a sort of critical mass, but its all very subjective.
      The job of architects and designers is to create the best possible built environment for that sort of density to occur. The whole point of a good public space is that it provides the opportunity for unpredictable and unplanned activities to happen. It’s a place to facilitate chance meetings, pleasant surprises and just the ability to explore something new by accident.
      The ‘Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’ does a very good job of distilling the key factors to achieve this. I’m writing a post now based on that.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    I need to add this before I forget. I agree with Barrak on the original concept and I agree with him on creating a opportunity for walking in the city. However, I feel it needs for it to be successful, something more than shops on a street.

  • Mark, that’s a very good point. The perception of success is a very powerful motivator. You would never feel comfortable walking into a restaurant if it’s empty, and that same rule applies to most public spaces. There’s this peer-approval through crowds. It’s almost like free advertising, really. When you see a crowd, you feel safer and that gives you approval to check that place out. Why waste a chance at free advertising?
    bumo, I don’t really care much for phonetic transliteration. 🙂

  • […] vs Salhiya 16 12 2009 We have discussed Arraya complex before mentioning of the need to create an outdoor space rather than a traditional […]

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