Palestine has long been an area of international dispute and conflict, culminating in the 1947 partition of Israel and Palestine by the United Nations in 1947, and the continuing capturing of territory for settlement by Israel. What remains, after various conflicts and interference by bordering nations, are two Palestinian regions – Gaza and West Bank – geographically separated from each other.
Heavily dependent on Israel for goods, services, exports and employment, its geographical marginalisation has been enhanced by increased security border controls in recent years.
According to the World Bank’s Economic Outlook Report 2017, although there has been economic growth in the West Bank and particularly Gaza, falling aid and an increased deficit mean that whatever growth there is, it will not be sufficient to improve living standards. If there was ever a region in need of economic activity and investment, it is Palestine. And the tenacity of its people shows the potential for growth.
Yet some companies are still investing in Palestine. Property Development firm Lacasa Holdings announced in September 2017 that it was opening a large-scale retail mall in Ramallah, in the West Bank of Palestine, delivered by its subsidiary Lacasa Architects. The value of the project is estimated to be $40 million, and it is planned to open in the first quarter of 2019.
We talked to Emad Jaber, Chairman of Lacasa Holdings, about the planned project and what Lacasa hopes it will do for Palestine.
Can you tell us about your retail mall in Ramallah, Palestine? What do you have planned?
With a total built-up area of 50,000 SQM, Centro Mall is set to be Palestine’s largest retail development.
It will be the prominent social hub for shopping, dining, entertainment, and entrepreneurship in the country consisting of 135 retail units, five anchor shops, 21 food and beverage outlets (F&Bs), a kids’ play area, a ballroom, an ice rink, and an indoor skydiving chamber.
Also, a dedicated area has been assigned to include kiosks for Palestinian entrepreneurs to launch their startups and display their products and services. The inclusion of this feature emphasises LACASA Holdings’ mission to encourage innovation in the country.
Has it been difficult to get the project underway? How have residents and government reacted?
The plans for the project were met with overwhelming support from all the authorities involved. Both the government, as well the as the residents, are looking forward to its completion.
We’ve also received countless inquiries from local as well as international brands interested in leasing space.
How does the design of the project relate to the local landscape?
The design of the mall has been inspired by Palestine’s biggest economic and symbolic asset – the olive tree. It’s an iconography that has been used throughout the building.
The building has also been clad in Jerusalem stone, meaning that it will blend into its environment. The flooring will be wood and tiles influenced by Moorish patterns, set under a Turkish blue ceiling.
Compared to the low-rise residential area in which it is being built, the building will stand out in its size and stature. Its size is symbolic of the idea that we want this to be a landmark building that will point to the future and inspire.
You’ve said one of your goals is improving the standard of construction and design in Palestine. How are you enacting this?
As with all of our Palestine projects, we have contributed to the improvement of the construction industry through the transference of expertise from Dubai.
The designs have always exceeded the standards in the country, through the use of contemporary architectural features, high-end materials and finishes, as well as luxurious interiors. Every LACASA project has maintained an aspect of the local architecture, namely as I mentioned before with the use of the Jerusalem stone for the exterior cladding.
As for construction, and specifically for the mall, we have sent a team of highly experienced and certified project managers from our Dubai office to oversee the construction. Working with the local engineers, they will be providing them with the latest construction methodologies and project management practices.
Transferring expertise has been emphasised at LACASA through a number of initiatives and practices, including undertaking projects in developing markets such as Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Tunisia (pre-2011).
Additionally, the firm launched a design competition providing UAE Architecture students with the opportunity to work on a real design brief. Mentors from LACASA worked with the contestants to provide direction and support throughout the competition. The winner was offered a full-time placement at the firm.
Why does this project matter for Palestine?
The mall will go beyond bringing a new shopping, dining, and entertainment experience – it will also create jobs for Palestinians. Through the construction and later the operations, the mall will create hundreds of jobs for the country.
It will also boost Palestine’s economy, as it will help local businesses to grow by giving them the space for optimal exposure.
The mall will also enhance Palestine’s image globally. It will be a landmark and an icon of the country’s innovation and potential for economic strength.
You’ve built other developments in Palestine. Can you tell us about them and what their impact has been on the economy and community?
These projects include a high-end residential building, an International Baccalaureate-accredited school, and an Art School.
We have seen a change in the architectural practices within the country, with many competitors replicating some of the features used.
As for the community, the responses we receive once a project has been launched have always been overwhelming be positive with many expressing their interest in being involved, such as suppliers, consultants and so on.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline?
The plan is to have Centro Mall be the first of many across the different cities in Palestine. We really think it’ll make a difference.