28 Dec 2012
A one-size-fits-all approach to designing and developing retail developments doesn’t work in African, Indian or Middle Eastern markets.
Each area has unique peculiarities and should therefore be dealt with in a unique way, says Franc Brugman, director at Bentel Associates International (BAI).
BAI has established a significant footprint in the African, Indian and Middle Eastern markets during the last decade. Its involvement in Africa extends to South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mozambique and Angola.
The Indian market includes major developments designed and constructed across the entire sub-continent whilst the Middle East includes projects in Iran, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Brugman says Africa is a growing market which is both aspirational and very much in tune with global trends. In fact, seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies in the next five years will be African according to the International Monetary Fund’s forecasts.
These include Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria and are expected to expand by more than 6 per cent a year until 2015.
There are many opportunities for architects to establish their footprints and make a positive contribution to the continent’s continuous development. Lagos, Nigeria, for example, is the second largest city in Africa and continues to grow rapidly in all major sectors.
The economic and urban growth will continue to demand a retail environment providing a more comprehensive shopping experience.
BAI designed Lagos’s first major retail development, The Palms, which was completed in 2005.
This centre is directly linked to the Lekki Expressway, allowing easy access to visitors coming from nearby areas.
Major extensions and alterations to the development are currently being explored by the centre’s owners.
Although Africa has a growing economy, it is not without its challenges.
Land ownership is a major problem in many areas as land often either belongs to the state or is community owned.
Unclear legal confirmation of ownership is also often present.
This could lead to political interference, which could result in the stagnation of many proposed developments.
Angola in particular suffers from a clear state of land ownership, which negatively impacts on potential development.
In many of these emerging markets, potential developments are often started by local land owners who see the potential of their sites and contact architects as a first step in establishing a viable project for development.
As a result, the architect often finds himself initially acting as a developer by assisting the land owner to establish a development team and finding potential development partners.
Another major challenge in Africa is the lack of information flow and education required in realising a potential project.
While some African economies, like Kenya, have a sophisticated retail culture, others require additional input in realising a retail project.
A good example is Ghana’s Accra Mall, the first retail project of its kind and scale in the country.
The large-scale format of shopping malls was completely unknown to the local population.
Brugman explains that BAI and the development team conducted information seminars to educate potential tenants and shop owners regarding how shopping malls operated, including the concept of shoppers being pulled past your shop due to anchor tenants and the reasons for good shop design and signage.
Shoppers and tenants alike realised the value of this input as rentals began to climb and demand for shop space grew, he says.
In India, the pace of change in the retail sector has increased dramatically over the last few years.
A number of factors that have been driving this include income growth, changing demographic profiles and socio- economic environments.
India’s retail landscape continues to improve, but this too has not been without its challenges.
In the past, a lack of local expertise and infrastructure resulted in poorly produced retail developments that could not cater to the needs of a rapidly growing urban population.
BAI had the challenge of dealing with these shortages and their expertise in retail design and construction became highly valued in the market.
Dealing with land issues is also a major challenge. Issues occur mainly due to limited availability of space and as a result, unlike many greenfield developments in South Africa where a shopping malls are no higher than two floors, the demand for large retail developments in India called for large shopping malls being built over many levels.
An example is the multi-levelled shopping centre Oberoi Mall in Mumbai which was designed by BAI. Oberoi Mall was the first completed mall designed by BAI in India.
This came after BAI established their credentials with the design of public spaces only in Inorbit Mall, Mumbai.
Other challenges initially faced included the need for a paradigm shift by local developers to understand the necessity for an inclusive approach to retail development, starting with the demographics of the locality, through the need for a mixture of magnets, the need for national and small tenants, good parking, good planning and good management of centres.
Current challenges include the need for the Indian government to relax its policy on foreign direct involvement.
This would open doors for more major international tenants, which will in turn introduce more competition and help developers in their financial negotiations.
Also, in terms of the construction industry, work is heavily labour intensive, which means that developments usually take twice as long to complete as they do in South Africa. Contracts between developers and contractors are also not standardised.
BAI entered the Indian market almost nine years ago at the invitation of a locally based business called ICS, who were involved with infra-structure development.
A separate and autonomous joint venture was established as an architectural company, which has now grown to a total of approximately 30 locally employed architects and technicians, based in Mumbai.
Malls of up to 100 000 square metre Gross Leasable Area designed by BAI have been completed in most major centres, including Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Bhopal, and now under construction in Delhi.
There are currently over 20 projects live in the Mumbai office, the major portion of which are mixed use developments comprising retail, hospitality, commercial and residential components. These reach as far afield as Jaipur, Raipur, Chennai and Deheradun.
In the Middle East, forecasts are looking good as there is an enormous need for social infrastructure like hospitals, government housing and schools.
As residential and commercial development continues at a rapid pace, the region’s architecture is undergoing massive transformations.
Modern architecture is increasingly embraced over traditional building designs. Dubai has traded the traditional for the modern with the aim of making Dubai an attractive tourist destination for Westerners.
Neighbouring Abu Dhabi decided to continue with more traditional Arab designs while Saudi Arabia and most other Arab countries have blended historic design techniques into modern architecture.
The Middle East has large amounts of available capital. This means architects are often pushed further regarding design ideas and trends.
This is a good opportunity for architects to deliver great projects, but also mean they have to really prove themselves in a way that requires tremendous input.
Social problems in the wider Middle East could also be a problem to architects as projects sometimes get delayed.
As the region often demands culturally specific designs, architects need to have a good understanding of the local culture.
Red Sea Mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for example, required the integration of design principles with cultural needs.
Praying areas as well as gender specific shopping areas were included in the design plans.
The only way to effectively overcome challenges in these areas is by adopting an area-specific approach.
“Our experience in international markets has taught us that a general approach to problems is not the way to go.
“Rather, a great deal of understanding of an area is required to handle unique issues with success,” adds Brugman.
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