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Have you ever walked around in a place and felt somewhere else? Felt like you are in a fantasy, or maybe on the other side of this planet? Or even on another planet? Does it feel good? Do you enjoy the experience? Do you remember it? So many questions are asked when the topic is "Theming" and two answers are never the same, some people like it and some people do not. It's a subjective matter that depends on the person's experience with the "theme" that is being displayed rather than the objects that are being presented. Theming is the act of importing an external narrative and applying it to an "object" of another location, space or time period (Bryman, 2004). The main purpose for theming a place is for it to be more interesting, to give it a meaning and infuse it with a purpose to be more attractive for consumers. Yet, consumers are being more aware of this themeing trade and its consequences; theming is being accused for "presenting a sanitized history, one that removes any reference to hardship and conflict in the cause of consumption" (Bryman, 2004, p. 52) . On the contrary, in our region, theming is being increasingly popular. One can experience the "modern Pharaohs" by starting his/her day with a coffee in Wafi Gourmet, be a "Sindibad" in Madinat Jumeirah at lunch and experience the Renaissance by ending the day in Mercato mall. This eclecticism is driving the world those days into a global identity, it is fusing times, locations, and experiences, subsequently we don't feel the authentic meaning of those experiences anymore. One of those malls that are trying to take the consumers back in time and space is Wafi mall.
The Wafi city is a complex that consists of multiple activity places, including a shopping mall, restaurants, spas, a hotel and a night club all themed after the Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. The shopping mall tries to tell an ancient story once been told by Pharos. The mall has three atriums in which you can enjoy natural light, they are roofed with Pyramid like structure, and two of those pyramids are stained colored glass with depictions of ancient daily life Egyptian scenes such as farmers, workers and the Egyptian gods (Swan, 2009). Additionally, the Egyptian theme continues throughout the mall through illustrations of statues, like the Taut Ankh Amon in the middle part between the new extension and the older mall. The mall has columns resembling those in the Karnak with their decorated shafts of many illustrations of birds, Pharaoh Figures and hieroglyphic inscription; the capitals of the columns are also made to resemble the notion of Egyptian columns with plants - Lotus and Papyrus mostly- inspired capitals. Moreover, the light brown stone used in the columns is appealing for people to feel they are in a "modern pyramid" , the inscriptions on the walls, columns, the three pyramids with imagery and hieroglyphic ancient "language" is also what makes this mall's themeing appealing to customers.
The newest extension to Wafi center is the Khan Murjan, inspired by the ancient Baghdadi Souk that was built in the 14th century by Amin Al Deen Murjan, Baghdad's "Wali" at that time. The design of the souk itself resembles the one in Baghdad -air-conditioned though- with its long corridors and double height spaces; however the Wafi souk contains four different quarters inside it, a Syrian, Moroccan, Turkish and Egyptian. The shops for this part of the mall have different nature, they are handmade inherited traditions that tourists can see while wondering around; the shops include Persian rugs, Syrian aromas, Egyptian garments, etc (Asharq AlAwsat, 2007). Every piece has been made using only traditional materials and techniques, the materials for each quarter are brought from the county of origin so for instance the wooden arabesque in the Syrian quarter is brought from Syria and the ceramic in the Turkish quarter is brought from Turkey, the colorful mosaic from Morocco and the carved stones from Egypt. Moreover, the 64m stained glass ceiling is a masterpiece of many craftsmen that depicts the daily life of Arabian trades and merchants along with some Arabic calligraphy inscriptions. This master piece is inspired by the Iraqi artist Yahiya Bin Muhammad Al Wasti who depicted the 14th century life of Arab merchants and travelers.
The Owner / The Designer/ The Managers.
- H.H. Sheikh Manea Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum is the owner
- John R. Harris, the architect of the mall.
- Shajahan Unneen, General Manager for Wafi Property
- Sally Meech is the Marketing Communications Manager
The actual juxtaposition between the Ancient Pharahos civilization in parts of the mall, and the authentic 14th century Khan Murjan Souk is in itself one of the traces of globalization because we see that the mall is trying to get different eras and different perception of time periods under the same roof. So when the customer is inside the Egyptian part of the mall, he/she feels a different experience when encountering the authentic Souk. Now this manifestation of globalization is not intentional because the intention is to provide the customer with different types of experiences. Another trace of globalization is witnessed inside the Egyptian part of the mall where all the brands with over than 200 shops -some of them are specific to Wafi only- are being read against the columns and the statues. The contradiction here is between the Ancient Pharaohs theming and the unique Italian, British and American brands.
On the other hand, they can't only get Egyptian shops to be consistent with the theme; hence this is one of the consequences of globalization.
Other manifestations may appear in the "Mcdonadization"- the act of localizing imported goods or objects (Bryman, 2004) -that happens in the mall when some events occur. For instance the Emirati National day is celebrated through placing many flags over the columns and the Pharos inscriptions. Christmas is usually celebrated through a huge Christmas tree placed in the main atrium and they sometimes create artificial snow for this event. Ramadan is also celebrated through large Crescents scattered all over the atriums and the Egyptian encrypted walls.
Nowadays, the most interesting manifestation of globalization is the combination of three different traditions: the emirates flags that are partially covering the Egyptian columns, both of them surrounding the charismas tree.
It is difficult to identify the fake and the authentic when it comes to themed shopping, where the theme is juxtaposed with the experience. The people interact with the Egyptian civilization modernly, and the differences between antiquity and modernity is erased, "[b]oundary-blurring ran rampant-from session to session one could hear differences collapsing right and left: between shopping and entertainment, the real and the fake, ..." (Lefkowitz, 1998, p. 30) .However, looking insightfully at the themed object would give us a glance of what is missing in our experience; therefore, encountering the narrowness of the pyramids is way too different from experiencing the roofs of the atriums in Wafi. However, the "boundry blurring" becomes obvious when it comes to the columns which are somehow the same- regardless of the scale- the many illustrations on the walls, the birds, the Egyptian figures, the hieroglyphic writing are somehow real and make the customer feel like he/she is looking at an old encrypted language. The replicas of the statues however, the Ramses and Anubis are less authentic , the obelisks of the "pharaohs temple" in Luxor is definitely not authentic while the original one has only one obelisk and the second is in Paris, Wafi's version has both of the obelisks and they
The Khan Murjan on the other hand is a bit more authentic, because of the types of shops in there. The shops are owned by small enterprises with hand crafts such as paintings, aromas, handmade furniture and so on. Moreover, the fact that the materials are all brought from the country of origin of the quarters adds to the experience of the customer and makes him/her feel like walking in one of the "air conditioned" Syrian or Egyptian quarters and experiencing the goods sold there.
Security and Safety
The security at Wafi Mall is private, there is no one agency that controls it, it's just an extension of the customer service, and the CCTV cameras-controlled by the main control room- all over the mall...however the main security in the mall controlled by the Dubai police using "under covered" agents who dress like normal customers so they wouldn't be recognized.
What are the problems that are faced by the security?
- Lost children
- Attempts of fraud by using stolen credit cards
- Attempts to photograph famous designs and replicate them.
How do they deal with those problems?
They usually assess the situation first, if it is worth interfering and exposing themselves then they have the authority to act immediately to stop the people who are responsible for the combats or the theft attempts. Afterwards, they wait for the police to come and solve the problem or take the "criminals" to the police station.
How often do those "combats" happen in Wafi?
We have asked two of the police officers this question, one of them has been working there for two years now, not continuously however, and he has only witnessed one combat that is worth interfering.
How did this "under covered agents" phenomenon emerge?
It happened right after the famous Wafi robbery; the police assigned some of their agents to go inside the malls as normal customers. There are no assigned specific zones, nor assigned specific malls, they change their shifts frequently through many malls; so for instance if they serve in Wafi this week, next week they might serve in Dubai mall, etc.
Types of Consumers/customers.
As we have been wondering in Wafi , interviewing people and talking to the managers and the security , we have noticed that the nationality of people who visit Wafi the most are Emiratis, little less Russians and Asians and very few of other nationalities. The socio-economic people who are the usual customers of Wafi mall are the "high class" of this society or the people with good financial status because the mall - as people and security stated- is more expensive than other malls. The gender of customers however does not really an issue in this mall, people of both genders visit for shopping, visiting restaurants, etc. Yet the age is a bit higher in rate than that of other malls. The mall does not experience the teenagers who come for window shopping or "hanging around" because there is nothing of that interest to them and its way too expensive for them to "hang out" in.
Is the mall successful?
The mall -in my opinion- is successful financially based on what I have noticed and what people have been stating in the interviews, it is also safe because of the high security level especially after the famous robbery. Design wise, however, I was not so attracted to it, because faking an experience is not as enjoyable as living the original one, plus this is a modernized experience of something that is supposed to be heritage, I would rather visit the pyramids and the actual Khan Murjan than go shopping in Wafi, and my budget does not allow that as well. However, there is a unique aspect that this mall is providing with its openness and quietness compared to other malls. The customers can walk freely, and get lost easily in the different parts of the mall to explore its different qualities, just as Lefkowitz said 'In the ideal shopping environment, getting lost is a good thing. It creates an "exploratory experience" more conducive to casual purchasing" (1998, p. 32) .Hence, the regular customers for this mall are the ones who look for
Is the mall successful in the opinion of...?
- The customer service employees on the other hand think that Wafi mall has not been effected a lot by the financial crisis because the visitors are from "high class" people , Sheikhs, and actors , so they see it as a success for the mall.
- The security or the police officers see the Wafi mall very successful in terms of its safety and it has significantly less "crime" rates than other malls.
- As far as the visitors concerned, the mall is successful financially and security wise, in the design part, some of them think it is the main attraction for the mall, others think it has added nothing to the value of the mall , it's the brands that make them come shopping there, as illustrated below in the interviews we have made with different customers in the mall:
- Al Sharq AlAwsat. (2007, May 16). Dubai's Khan Murjan: Where the Past Comes to Life. Asharq Al-Awsat .
- Bryman, A. (2004). Disneyization of Society . London: GBR:Sage Publications Ltd.
- Lefkowitz, D. (1998, April). Shopping and the meaning of life:Learning from the Mall of America: The Design of Consumer Culture,Public Life, and the Metropolis at the End of the Century. New Art Examiner , pp. 30-33.
- Swan, S. Z. (2009, July 6). Themed Malls in Dubai Spotlight Architecture. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from UAE travel: http://united-arab-emirates-travel.suite101.com/article.cfm/themed_malls_in_dubai_spotlight_architecture#ixzz0Yc0IrtS0