Asia's 'biggest' mall in Dhaka
The giant glass and steel arch hangs like an upturned smile above the concrete and scaffolding, each day welcoming hundreds of construction workers and prospective store holders into the cavern like atrium of what is claimed will be Asia's biggest shopping centre.
No, this monster of a building is not on some retail park on the outskirts of Shanghai, or Kuala Lumpur, but in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And whether or not the claim of its Asian predominance is true, the sheer scale of 'Jamuna Future Park' cannot be questioned.
Standing in the entrance of the nine story building with sunlight cutting down through the glass ceiling, Future Park's designer AJM Alamgir can roll off a list of staggering figures as testimony to its scale.
So far more than 5.5 million bricks, 40,000 tones of steel, 2 million bags of cement and 3.6 million cubic feet of sand have been consumed in its construction. On average 1,200 workers are busy on the site each day and when completed there will be 4.5 million square feet of shopping, entertainment facilities and offices.
It is the largest ever private infrastructure venture, and will be three times the size of Bashundhara City, the country's current number one shopping mall, according to the Jamuna Group.
With space for more than 4,300 shops, a food court, children's theme park, cinema halls, an exhibition centre and offices the centre's total yearly turnover will be around TK16,000 crore, according to Nurul Islam Babul, chairman of Jamuna Group.
“It’s not only the biggest in the country, I must claim that it is the biggest ever shopping mall project in South Asia,” said Babul.
But getting it built has not been easy. Work started on the site in 2001, but political disputes delayed development. In February 2007 Babul was seized and sent to Dhaka Central jail, accused under the emergency power rules of anti-state activities and land grabbing. He was released on bail in December and is unwilling to comment on the accusations or the reasons for the project's delay.
At present around 80 percent of work has been completed and the aim is to open the first phase of the complex by mid 2009 with 140 escalators and 42 lifts still needing to be installed. A second phase involving the construction of a hotel and hospital will come later.
But will there really be enough customers to keep the 4,300 shops going?
Babul has no doubt. “When I dreamed of such a big venture, I considered a place which must be surrounded by areas that would be able to provide customers for Future Park.. I think this is the right spot.”
The centre is well located for most of the more affluent parts of the city, Gulshan, Baridhara, Uttara, DOHS, and Banani, he said, adding that “Its population density will encourage the prospective shoppers to become a part of the country's biggest business centre.”
The centre will have parking spaces for 5,000 cars and is surrounded by a 26 feet ringroad in order to allow customers to bring their own vehicles.
Babul also insisted that Future Park, with its entertainment focus ranging from restaurants to karaoke and bowling lanes to swimming pools, would attract non-shoppers.
“The park should not be considered a mall only, it's a city where you can find whatever you want for passing a day time.”
One common question asked is about power supply, but Babul said power supply is not a problem. “We will supply uninterrupted power to the mall by setting a 40MW private power plant inside the area.”
Bangladeshi engineers have already proved their skills by developing huge projects around the world. For example, everyone can recollect the name of Fazlur Khan, a Bangladeshi structure engineer who designed the Sears Tower in Chicago.
But here in Bangladesh it still comes as a surprise to many that a local engineer, such as AJM Alamgir is behind such a huge project as Future Park. Indeed Alamgir is involved in several of the major developments going on in and around Dhaka at the moment such as the Unous Tower at Motijhil, Silver Tower at Gulshan, and North Tower at Uttara.
Yet sometimes it is difficult to remain engaged in such a long running project as Future Park. “Sometimes I feel a little bored. But when I realize this project is likely to be part of history, any reluctance I have turns into enthusiasm,” he said.
It's a feeling echoed by Jamuna Group's Babul. “I will not be alive forever, but the 18,000 tones of concrete used in the Jamuna Future Park will make me immortal,” he said smiling.