The largest shopping mall in the world

No structure best depicts affluence and wealth more than the Dubai Mall which is the latest addition to a development set to have a huge impact on the infrastructure of Dubai City with an additional 12 million sq feet of high end retail fashion space. FME is given an insiders view of this unique, high-end luxury retail complex by Michael Kelly, Director for Emaar Malls, the leading developer and operator of shopping malls in Dubai.

It is true to say that customers at Dubai’s biggest shopping centre are treated to 5 star fire protection as well as a lavish and luxury 5 star shopping experience. The four-storey Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest Tower Burj Khalifa, forms part of a multi-complex development positioned in the heart of a new and modern city, complete with the latest in fire and safety control.

Up to 75 million customers will pass through the doors of this exciting destination. Emaar constantly strive for perfection and provide safety standards that go beyond the conventional and minimum standard required in building and fire safety design, including its own highly professional 24/7 emergency response team responding to any incident in less than 5 minutes within the 4km stretch of retail and entertainment
capital of the world.

With a total internal floor area of 5.9 million sq ft, The Dubai Mall has 3.77 million sq ft of gross leasable space and over 1,200 retail outlets.

The Dubai Mall features the world-class family entertainment including the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo; KidZania®, an innovative children’s ‘edutainment’ concept; SEGA Republic, a 76,000 sq ft high adrenaline indoor theme park and a 22-screen, Reel Cinemas megaplex with a total capacity of 2,800 seats. For visitors, there is an adjoining 5-star premium hotel, The Address Dubai Mall and car parking for over 14,000 vehicles.

A massive expansion of The Dubai Mall is currently underway, paving the way to welcome over 100 million visitors.

Fire safety challenges

Shopping centres, like any retail centre, face substantial public liability for a whole host of risks, from accidents and trips and falls to the risk of fire.

From a fire protection perspective, shopping malls are generally the most complicated of retail structures, requiring a fire alarm system sufficiently intricate to provide communication between active systems such as, zoned sprinklers, smoke control provision, secondary power supplies, emergency lighting and manned control centres.

The Dubai Mall is unique and not like any other retail outlet of its size but poses a number of challenges all of which needed to be considered in the design process; from egress systems, to the complexity of the fire detection system to ensure the maximum safety of customers and occupants and to maintain the integrity of the building where possible.

The systems at the Dubai Mall will protect the hundreds of thousands of customers that are expected to walk through the mall’s doors each day.

Systems in the Mall

The Dubai Mall is typical of a modern shopping centre and involves the installation of a number of systems, many of which operate in conjunction with each other in the event of a fire-related emergency.

The fire detection and notification systems in the Dubai Mall have been designed to the NFPA STD 101. The design utilises a networked series of intelligent addressable panels together with a combination of intelligent addressable smoke and heat detectors, call points and interfaces that integrate a range of building services, such as the air conditioning, fire dampers and sprinkler systems into a cohesive fire detection and fire protection system.

Building Regulations

While equipment and materials used by the construction are in the most part set to international standards, Dubai’s building regulations are a harmonisation of a number of different international codes. The influence of the United States is still strong, as the dominant building code is the American National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), but there is also an influence from the new UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice 2011.


Evacuation time for shopping malls can be lengthy. Much depends on the efficiency of the staff to manage the evacuation process and a life safety system that includes a number of elements; that activate audible alarms and that are programmed to automatically notify the local Civil Defence department. Smoke is as dangerous as fire, so a well-designed smoke control system is provided to maintain smoke-free escape conditions to allow the building to be evacuated with minimum risk of smoke inhalation.

The need to evacuate only the area of the Dubai Mall affected by fire has resulted in an intricate system to ensure that fire can be detected in the early stages, the right areas are evacuated and the right systems are in the right part of the building. For example, smoke curtains and smoke extract operate to maintain the ‘open’ mall area as a place of comparative safety.