Good story telling means a successful theming project

With a glut of construction projects currently underway in the Middle East, many developers are turning to theming to make their developments stand out from the crowd.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  May 7, 2005

Good story telling means a successful theming project |~|71 proj body.jpg|~||~|Contractors have always known how to tell a good tale. But nowhere is this more important than in the burgeoning theming business. The key to whether a theme is successful or not is the story it tells. “Story telling with a building is the key to a successful project. You have to decide what the story is before you design the building. A lot of projects are done the other way round, so the story ends up being missed,” says Bart S.M.Dohmen, managing director Europe, BRC. “People remember the stories more than anything else, so you have to decide what the story is before anything else,” he adds. One of the most successful developments to have opened in the region last year was the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, which recreated traditional Arabian architectural features and finishes by using traditional building methods. This different approach made the development stand out from other shopping centres in Dubai and gave the whole development an identity that visitors seem to enjoy. “Theming helps to give projects identity and accessibility because it creates something that people can easily recognise. It doesn’t just decorate a project, it defines it,” says James Hicken, the business development manager at Mivan. The same may also turn out to be true for Nakheel’s new Ibn Battuta Mall, also in Dubai, that echoes its namesake’s travels through Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China. This means that the theme has to remain interesting to visitors. “Theming is a dynamic. It has to be reviewed constantly so that the concept always stays fresh,” says Hicken. “This used to happen every five years, but now it is every two or three years,” he adds. At the moment, contractors and designers in the Middle East — and the Gulf in particular — are more concerned with new build projects. And that’s no surprise given the number of major projects underway around the region that involve substantial amounts of theming work. One of the most talked about themed resorts in Dubai is the Atlantis resort on the Palm Jumeirah. The project doubled in size and value from US $650 million to $1.1 billion last year, and is currently in the early stages of construction. The revised plan uses most of the 120-acre site that lies on the central crescent section of The Palm Jumeirah with enhanced marine, and entertainment attractions a second 800-room hotel tower, which brings the total number of rooms to 2000. With a number of attractions, the resort is aiming to attract tourists visiting for the day from other hotels in the surrounding area. The new resort is set to feature a number of unusual and distinctive archaeological marine exhibits. The design is based on the myth of Atlantis and will maintain the iconic design elements of the Royal Towers in Atlantis, Paradise Island (The Atlantis in the Bahamas), along with traditional Arabic design themes. An extensive water-theme park — which at approximately 40 acres will be the largest in the region — will feature unique water attractions, one of the world’s largest marine habitats, a snorkel trail, a swim with the dolphins encounter programme, an array of water slides and The Dig, an Atlantis-themed ‘archaeological’ experience. The water-theme park will have capacity for over 6000 daily visitors. An Entertainment Village will also be developed that will feature 2000 m2 of retail space within an 800 m2 area hosting restaurants and food and beverage establishments. Development planning is underway in anticipation of the start of construction, which is projected to start in 2005. Construction is slated for completion in by late 2007. More theming work will also be needed on another of Nakheel’s developments, the Lost City. The freehold community will be built around replicas of legendary lost cities in the sands of Jebel Ali. The buildings will be accurately reconstructed, reflecting the splendour of old style of architecture. The project’s developer is taking it so seriously that it has sent its engineers to several archaeological sites in the regions that were part of the old world, to study the styles, street plans, layouts and materials used in construction of those ancient villages and houses. The residential units will be constructed and organised over five distinct village areas: The Lost City Hotel Village; The Souq Village; The Gateways Village; The Gardens Village; and The Hilltop village. There will be a variety of elevations for villas and townhouses, from ancient Jordanian to the old Egyptian theme or from predominant construction styles used in ancient Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, which are considered part of the Fertile Crescent. Additionally, there will be old themed elevations from the Arabian Peninsula and lands as far away as Morocco and Mongolia. Sticking to the international theme, Nakheel is also developing International City, which features internationally-themed residential, commercial and tourist elements. The development is made up of six key areas, including The Central District, Dubai Gates, The Dragon Mart, The Residential District, Lakes District and The Forbidden City. The Residential District hosts a variety of country-themed zones made up of buildings resembling the architectural styles of Italy, Spain, Morocco, Persia, Greece, China, Indonesia, England, Russia, Thailand and France. Further along Emirates Road at Dubailand, a Saudi investment group has committed US $120 million in the company that is being formed to promote the world’s largest indoor theme park: the $3.8 billion mixed-use Legends-Dubailand project. The holding company — which is being formed by Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House through a private placement — will be capitalised at $302 million and will be registered in Dubai. The first phase is expected to be operational by 2007 with the first theme park of Legends of Arabia. The second stage will be completed by 2010, and the third and final phase by 2013. The project will have seven main components, at the core of which will be Legends of Arabia, Legends of Nature and Legends of the World. The complex will be spread across 300 000 m² and will be the largest indoor theme park in the world. The park will have five theme areas; the Legends of Nature will have a biodome to showcase diversity of the climate and the Legends of the World has been inspired by people and places. The complex will include the Legends Leisure Complex that will offer entertainment, retail and fine dining with a 16 000-unit car park. It will also feature four hotels, three of which will be themed on Arabian, Caribbean and medieval concepts. Apartment complexes will also be part of this segment. Also at Dubailand, the new 2 million m2 City of Arabia will feature a dinosaur theme park developed in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of London. Opening its doors in 2008, Restless Planet will set a new standard for imaginative theme parks, with three rides, including a special ‘dark ride’, and more than 100 lifelike, actual size ‘animatronic’ dinosaurs. Around 34 different species of dinosaur, designed with complete scientific accuracy, will be programmed to move, roar and walk. They can even track passengers with their eyes as they hurtle through a prehistoric world brought to life with astonishing digital sound and images. A scientific exhibition featuring the fossil remains of real dinosaurs will also give an educational bent to the park, which takes its name from the BBC’s television dinosaur documentary made with the Natural History Museum. The development also includes a waterway lined with more shops, cafés and restaurants in a development called Wadi Walk, that will connect the residential sites of City of Arabia with the mall and theme park. Once all these projects are complete, Dubai will surely have enough theme parks and themed developments to seriously challenge Florida as the theming capital of the world.||**||

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