We have discussed Arraya complex before, where we mentioned the need to create a public, outdoor space rather than the traditional all-inclusive, controlled and heavily monitored mall. Yet Arraya does have something of that nature within the complex. Arraya Plaza is rectilinear in shape, situated between the mall and the multistory car park that serves the complex. It is shaded and vegetated with ample daylight. The mall, full of high end shops cafes and restaurants, the hotel and convention center on one side and a newly constructed office tower on the other end should generate a lot of pedestrian traffic to the plaza. The complex belongs to the developer that has also constructed AlSalhiya complex.
AlSalhiya Plaza was built recently over an underground two level car park. The plaza attracts a lot of people of many ages to its cafes and restaurants. It is situated between a side street and old and new buildings, between the luxurious Salhiya complex and the ruins of the 60’s and 70’s buildings that serves almost the low-end consumers (mainly immigrant labour). Different demographics are mingling in the same area, yet a balance is kept. No one steps into the others territory. One would think though that AlSahiya Plaza won’t be a success story because of its surroundings and its location. The people who shop at AlSalhiya complex wont be found roaming in the older structures that surround that area. Arraya Plaza, on the other hand, should be more successful since the entire urban setting is newly constructed and well maintained, and only the ‘desired’ audience would come to the complex to start with. What is happening now is that AlSalhiya Plaza is successful and Arraya isn’t, and I will attempt to analyze the reasons for that success and failure.
AlSalhiya and Arraya both belong to the same developer hence the comparison between the two spaces. They both have the same type of high-end finishes and both are well maintained, vegetated, have water features and ample parking space for users.
Arraya Plaza gives you a fake feeling of openness as it is confined and heavily monitored as if you weren’t in a free public space. The location of it makes it difficult for people to simply walk across. Al Salhiya Plaza, however, is an actual open public space that is free for people to pass and use without the need to use any of its outlets. Pathways are made for pedestrians crossing from on side to the other easily. You don’t feel as if you’ve entered a private property and that feeling is very important for people to relax.
Arraya is simply off scale. It is massive, especially when compared to the new tower making it very hard to feel comfortable when you’re in the plaza. It makes you feel so small surrounded by very tall towers on every side. The shading element, though welcome during day time, seems to be a damaging element at night. It simply doesn’t work very well. It’s too high and elevated for a human scale. AlSalhiya plaza has structures that fit the human scale. The are designed in a curvilinear way, as if it’s protecting the people sitting there. Nothing blocks the view of the city at night and lots of shading umbrellas are scattered around to shield people from the sun, in addition to the built awnings.
Arraya Plaza has two cafes, both have no shelter for people and they only serve themselves. If the weather turns bad, if it rains or the wind speeds up and raises dust, people can’t go inside those structures, they’re too small. The only way for people to find shelter is either in the mall or head to their cars and leave. AlSalhiya plaza, however, has spaces big enough to host people inside, and have lots of it too. This is almost a mental safety net for people when thinking of dining in an open public space.
Arraya Plaza’s landscape design is uninviting and feels heavy and annoying. It’s elevated and divided into three levels, which softens the height and helps to reduce the scale, but I am sure that was not the intention here. People need to walk up and down lots of steps to reach from one end to the other, and the random layout of the trees doesn’t allow for people to interact and see each other. Although the space is big, it seems confined for a public space. AlSalhiya, however, has a landscape design that is not so ‘in your face’. The subtlety is an advantage as it never overpowers the scene. The steps are limited to the middle water fountain and the trees don’t block the view, making it easy to see people sitting and that attract more people to come.
There is no reason for anyone to explore Arraya Plaza, it sits alone in the middle without being on your path in any direction. If someone parks his or her car in the parking building and wants to go to the mall or office tower, they can completely bypass the plaza. The path is laid for people to get from point A to point B without having the plaza be a part of the experience. It just sits there waiting for someone to visit it. AlSalhiya plaza, on the other hand, is just there. People have no option but to pass by which makes the plaza inviting for them. People meander in the plaza to reach their final destination, which is essential to the success of any public space. It shouldn’t be an independent destination, but an integrated part of the whole experience. You don’t go to it, you go through it.