As a global metropolis at the peak of its success, Dubai has garnered much global attention and recognition through its innovative architectural endeavours that push the boundaries of scale and audacity. The world-renowned Dubai Mall, situated adjacent to the iconic Burj Khalifa, is the largest covered mall in the world and located at the heart of Downtown Dubai, one of the most exclusive areas in the city.
The Dubai Mall attracts over 100 million visitors from around the world annually and is one of the city’s most vibrant hotspots on social events and special occasions. The mall boasts numerous large-scale attractions, such as one of the world's largest indoor aquariums, an indoor triple-height waterfall, an indoor virtual reality park, and an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink. Additionally, the mall features unique atrium spaces that act as focal points for the mall’s sprawling walkways, using the play of natural light to create distinctive environments.
Occupying an impressive five million square metres of commercial property, Dubai Mall is one of the largest shopping malls in the world and the ultimate entertainment destination.
To understand the scale and magnitude of this mega-facility, it is necessary to delve into the mall's history. Despite its grand scale and context amongst the biggest and best, the Dubai Mall was primarily designed with functionality in mind.
Architecture and Design
As a retail and lifestyle destination, the mall boasts 1,200 retail stores, 120 food and beverage outlets, 95 elevators, 150 escalators, and numerous key attractions. The construction represents a micro-urbanism of an unprecedented scale for developer Emaar Properties, reflecting the in-depth analysis of historical, architectural, cultural, and physical forces at play in its design, which was conceptualised and delivered by DP Architects.
Due to its enormous size and intricate design, The Dubai Mall cannot be easily categorised. It is not merely a building, but rather a vast construction within a space that is comparable to that of an entire urban centre.
The project comprises a four-story, 515,000 sq m mall area - equivalent to the size of 50 soccer fields - a 550,000 sq m car parking area, and a 42,000-refrigeration-ton district cooling plant building. The mall area consists of four levels of shops, utilising more than 13,000 tons of structural steel, or around twice the amount used for the construction of Paris’ Eiffel Tower.
The parking area accommodates a total of 14,500 vehicles across two buildings with 10 levels of parking each and two levels of underground parking. The Link Bridge offers direct access from the Dubai Mall to the Dubai Metro for all visitors.
The sheer size and complexity of Dubai Mall reflect a microcosm of urbanism, reinforcing its status as a unique architectural achievement for Dubai and a global destination for visitors.
Throughout the design process of the Dubai Mall, the primary objective has been to develop a piece of architecture that serves the entire family while providing retailers with an efficient and functional working environment. DP Architects approached this task by adopting a city design process, rethinking every aspect of retail architecture design.
To achieve this goal, DP Architects formulated five planning principles. Firstly, they aimed to ensure clear pedestrian circulation, avoiding secondary corridors or hidden corners that may disrupt the flow of visitors. Secondly, visual connectivity to all shopfronts was a key consideration, allowing visitors to easily identify and locate their desired retailers. Thirdly, sufficient parking space and integrated public transportation were incorporated into the design, enabling ease of access for visitors. Fourthly, efficient service areas were allocated for each retail tenant, ensuring smooth operations. Lastly, the mall was subdivided into zones with distinct characters, providing visitors with a unique and varied experience.
By use of these principles, DP Architects created a singular piece of architecture that demonstrates the quality of a miniature city. The Dubai Mall's design reflects the marriage of form and function, with each design element contributing to a cohesive and immersive experience for all those involved.
Key Attractions in Dubai Mall
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo invites visitors to immerse in an extraordinary aquatic world. Housing thousands of aquatic animals and over 140 marine species, the attraction features a 10-litre tank containing more than 400 sharks and rays, including Sand Tiger Sharks, Giant Groupers, and a diverse array of marine life. The highlight of the aquarium is the 270-degree walkthrough tunnel, providing a mesmerising underwater experience for visitors. Curated immersive experiences are available for all ages and you will want to try them all.
Dubai Aquarium and Discovery Centre was awarded The Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Acrylic Panel. This colossal panel measures 32.88 metres wide x 8.3 metres high x 750 mm thick and weighs 245,614 kg, showcasing the engineering and architectural feats that make the attraction so unique.
Fashion Avenue, an exclusive haute couture precinct located within the mall, provides visitors with a luxurious shopping and dining experience. The area comprises more than 150 luxury stores and restaurants, featuring inspired architecture, captivating art, and stylish interiors. Fashion Avenue offers personalised 5-star service from the moment visitors arrive, including VIP valet service, Shop & Drop with delivery, an in-mall chauffeur service, and much more. The premises are also equipped with a retractable fashion catwalk and a unique state-of-the-art dynamic LED multimedia feature, adding to its appeal as the home of luxury in the Middle East.
Burj Khalifa At the Top offers a 360-degree view of Dubai from its observation deck on the 124th floor, providing an unparalleled experience of looking down at the majestic city of Dubai. Visitors can enjoy immersive virtual realities and participate in various activities, including taking pictures against greenscreens to later edit them as per their choice. The highlight of the visit is the view you get from one of the many telescopes available on the observation deck. The entrance to Burj Khalifa- At the Top is located on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall.
VR Park offers a diverse range of games, from simulated tumbles down the sides of the Burj Khalifa, to fighting off hordes of zombies in various abandoned locations, to off-road dune bashing adventures. The park also offers visitors the opportunity to virtually explore the depths of space.
One must-try ride is the Dubai Drone, which takes you on a journey into the year 2050, while Plummet offers a thrilling skydiving experience without the need to jump out of an actual airplane.
As the world's largest musical fountain, the Dubai Fountain attracts visitors from all corners of the globe. Situated alongside the massive, 30-acre Burj Khalifa lake and adjacent to the Dubai Mall, this spectacular fountain was designed by WET, a creative organisation that boasts the renowned Bellagio Hotel fountains on its impressive resume. Developed by Emaar, the Dubai Fountain was launched in 2009, coinciding with the inauguration of the Dubai Mall.
Standing at a towering height of 900 feet, this dancing fountain in Dubai is a sight to behold. Utilising 25 colour projectors and 6,600 bright lights across five circles and two arcs, the fountain comes to life during its five-minute performances. The fountain's heavy jets of water are propelled high into the air, swaying and moving in a mesmerising choreographed display set to various tunes.
KidZania is the perfect “edutainment” destination for children aged 2 to 16 years, providing an opportunity for learning and entertainment through role-playing simulations in various career opportunities. KidZania in Dubai Mall brings parents and children together, to learn and explore a variety of professions and take on the role of adult professionals such as surgeons or train drivers for a day.
The recently opened Chinatown at the Dubai Mall is a visual feast, with Chinese lanterns dangling overhead, funky neon signs, and a colossal panda statue. Accessible through an entrance opposite the Dubai Ice Rink or a door on the fifth floor of the cinema parking lot, Dubai's Chinatown boasts East Asian-inspired artwork adorning its walls, as well as lounges featuring wooden furniture and round-themed rugs.
As with other major Chinatowns across the globe, food is a central attraction at Dubai's Chinatown. The mall's food court boasts 16 stalls serving up an array of tantalising delights that will have you going back for more.
The Waterfall is another prominent, unmissable feature of Dubai Mall, consisting of two cylindrical structures, each 30 metres in diameter and 24 metres high. Art sculptures of fibreglass divers complement the rhythmic flow of water from the cascading waterfall that spans all four levels of the mall, creating a dynamic visual experience. Adorned with well-placed lighting, the waterfall reflects sunlight during the day and is lit at night, creating a serene and calming atmosphere for visitors to the mall.
The Dubai Mall has established a new model for conceptualising large-scale built environments as micro-urbanisms, which has created a novel paradigm for stimulating the global retail scene. Since its inception in 2008, the Dubai Mall has been a significant focal point for the emirate and Downtown Dubai, emerging as one of the world's most sought-after shopping and leisure destinations.
It can be challenging to separate the city of Dubai from the miniature city inside Dubai Mall, as both seem to form a fusion of strong character and identity, at the core of the emirate.