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Have you ever walked around or 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 in another planet? Does it feel good? Do you enjoy the experience? Do we 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 in one pot that 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.
1- What is the narrative intended in the design of the mall ? where does it originate? What kind of appeal is intended?
2- What sort of design features deployed to the theme of the mall? How are imagery , colors, materials and texture used to fulfill design intention?
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. It is all themed after the Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. The shopping mall tries to tell an ancient story once been told by Pharos. A walk through Wafi is like exploring a futurist Karnak - statues of Ramses and Anubis greet visitors at the east entrance. Inside The ancient Egyptian theme is continued throughout the complex in the form of statues such as the . mosaic floors, statue of Taut Ankh Amon in the middle part between the new extension and the older mall. , and columns that are resembling those in the Karnak with their decorated shafts of many illustrations of birds, Pharaoh Figures and hieroglyphic inscription; the capital of the columns is 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. Wafi City has three atriums in which you can enjoy natural light from pyramid-shaped ceilings. Two of those pyramids consist of colourful stained glass with depictions of ancient daily life Egyptian scenes of farmers, hunters, wrestlers, boatmen, scribes and priests from the age of the pharaohs. Also featured are the pharaohs themselves, their gods, and creatures of the ancient Nile.
Wafi mall have went to several extension and the latest one happened two years ago. Khan Murjan ,is the newest addition to Wafi, it is inspired by the ancient Baghdad Souk that was built in the 14th century by Amin Al Deen Murjan, Baghdad's "Wali" at that time. (with the blessed addition of 21st century air conditioning and restrooms). The design of the souk itself resembles the one in Baghdad 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 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
3- Do we know who designs the mall? Manages it? Owns it?
H.H. Sheikh Manea Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum is the owner
Shajahan Unneen, General Manager for Wafi Property
Sally Meech is the Marketing Communications Manager
4- Can we identify any traces of globalization within the mall? Are these real? Symbolic? In what ways?
The actual juxtaposition between the Ancient Pharahos civilization in parts of the mall, and the authentic 14th century Khan Murjan Souk is in itselfone 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. 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 yet this is the consequences of globalization.
Another manifestation is the "Mcdonadization" that happens in the mall where some events happen , so 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.
5- What is authentic about the mall? What is less authentic, possibly fake? How can we differentiate between the real and contrived? Does it matter?
The whole experience in my opinion is fake or too modern , for instance when experiencing the narrowness of the pyramids is way too different from experiencing the roofs of the atriums in wafi, the columns are somehow the same, regardless of the scale, because some are off proportioned when comparing them to the old Egyptian temples with monumental columns, the many illustrations on the wall , 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 status however, the Ramses and Anubis greeting the visitors from the eastern entrance is less authentic , the obelisks of the "pharaos temple" in luxor is defnently not authentic while the original one has only one obelisk and the second is in Paris, this one has both of the obelisks and they are "brand new" .
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 Syrian or Egyptian quarters - air conditioned though- and experiencing the goods sold there.
6- How is security and control maintained over the spaces of the mall? What kind of ' troubles' does the mall security system try to avoid,combat? How safe is the mall anyway?
The security at Wafi Mall is private, there is no one agency that controls it, it's just an extension of the customer service...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.
7- What socio-economic, ethnic , national, age or gender group does the mall appear to serve? Who's welcomed and who's not?
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.
8- In your opinion, is the mall successful? In what ways and based on what criteria? Do visitors share your opinion? Why or why not?
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 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's Chanel, and my budget does not allow that as well.
- 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:
1- Customer one: a middle aged woman
Where are you from?
How long have you been living here?
- A year now
Do you like Wafi mall?
- No , not really
And why is that?
- It's too expensive
Then why are you here today?
- Checking on Marks & Spencer
And do you think the design of the place is successful?
- Yes it is appealing, you get to see some old things.
Do you feel safe here?
- Yes I do
Why, although you don't see any security?
- Because Dubai is safe is general.
2- Customer two : a middle aged woman and her husband
Where are you from?
- Hong Kong
Do you live here?
- No, I am just visiting
How do you find Wafi?
- It's very nice
What makes you feel so?
- Its quiet, quieter than other malls, and when you shop you get more attention than in anywhere else, plus I found unique brands I haven't seen elsewhere.
Do you think the design is successful? Do you like the theming?
- To be honest, i am not into the design , my purpose is shopping and the brands I've seen so far are very elegant so I don't know about the theming part.
But don't you think you are learning something about the heritage?
- I would want to go to Egypt to learn about it , not those columns.
Do you feel safe here?
- Yes I do
3- Third customer : four local young ladies
Do you like Wafi mall?
- Yes, pretty much.
Do you think it's successful, and why?
- It's very successful, because it has lots of brands and restaurants, and there are less people here and it's a "class" mall to shop at.
Which shops and restaurants you like the most?
- Chanel, Make up forever, Mac...restaurants we like Biella, Gourmet, and elements.
Do you think it's safe here?
- Yes it is, although we don't like going in Khan Murjan.
And why is that?
- Its narrow, and there are very few people there and the place is dim , the lighting is not enough.
Do you like the design of the mall?
- Yes, it's the main attraction of the mall to tourists and customers.
4- Customer fiver: a young man
Where are you from?
How long have you been living here?
- For three years now
Do you like wafi mall?
- Yes I do , the restaurants are really nice here, especially elements.
And the shopping part?
- Honestly, I don't shop here a lot, it's above the budget.
Do you like the design of the mall? Is it attractive?
- Yes I like the design ,but I don't know if it attracts people.
Don't you think it attracts tourists?
- Yes it might, but it's not like when you visit the actual pyramid.
And what do you think about Khan Murjan?
- I like that part more, because it's a bit more authentic, you really feel like you are in a Bazaar when walking in it and especially the restaurant that satisfies lots of tastes.
Do you think this mall is safe? Even though you don't see a lot of guards?
- Yes I think Dubai is all safe, plus you never know who is a guard and who is not
5- Fifth: two local men, owners of Rose Café , new section.
Do you think this mall is successful?
- It's the most successful mall in Dubai.
And why do you think so?
- Because it has variety of brands and they are unique. Additionally, it attracts special kind of people, that's why we have chosen our café to be here.
What types of people you are talking about?
- Mostly locals, people with high financial status and positions like Sheikhs or businessmen.
Do you think the design of the mall is successful?
- Yes, I think it's very intelligent.
A unique expression, why "intelligent"?
- Because the Egyptian civilization is unique and thus this mall is like its theme, unique, and the people who come here are unique as well.