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     Volume 4 Issue 9 | August 20, 2004 |

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Cover Story

A City
Within a City

Imran H. Khan

One of the basic pursuits of life is the search for entertainment. In Dhaka, where choices are limited, going to a shopping mall is an activity that gives a moderate amount of pleasure even though it may mean a substantial drain on the wallet. Bangladeshis rush to the plazas and the malls, looking for a respite from their daily mundane, hectic existence. But existing shopping centres offer little more than rows and rows of shops selling products from abroad. Some have food courts but this is hardly enough to satisfy people's thirst for enjoyment. Most of these 'modern plazas' lack the basic ingredients of a proper complex, be it for shopping or for entertainment. There has always been emptiness in this booming service industry. The inauguration of Bashundhara City, although at a time when most of the country was reeling under the floods, is nevertheless the talk of the town. Apart from the flashy title of being the 'biggest mall' in South Asia, it is a complex that is sure to dazzle its visitors.

As Dolon, a student of Government Lab, walks into the mammoth hall and looks up at the dome skylight, he is speechless. Goosebumps begin to rise and he gulps as he takes in the majestic view of Bashundhara City's main hall. He and his friends are here for a little sneak-peak into the much-awaited city of promises, a city unlike any other, apparently the biggest shopping mall in South Asia. Located at the southern side of Panthapath, this colossal shopping mall has been built by Bashundhara Group on 17 <>bighas of land, spending an estimated staggering Tk 450 crore.

As he makes his way through the artificial plants and décor, he is amazed at the perfect ambience of natural and artificial light, playing together to brighten up the whole place. The floors too are well polished to reflect the light, glittering and shining all around him. That is not too surprising as the glass-made dome that covers the great hall is one of the biggest in Asia right now and is especially designed to allow more light and less heat. The interior and the exteriors are both made of reflecting steel, with potted plants at selective points to offer the best presentation. Artificial palm trees in the main hall give the whole complex an international look.

"It is amazing. I have never seen anything like this before. I cannot wait for it to become operational," says a dazed Dolon. He along with thousands of others had patiently waited five years for the project to be completed. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia formally inaugurated Bashundhara City complex on August 5 at a gala function but the multiplex will not be open to the public until September 10.

The designers behind this mega complex were Vistaara Architects, one of Dhaka's premier architecture firms, founded in 1994. They were assisted by Arun Chaiesri Consulting Engineers Co., Ltd. (ACS) of Thailand and Environmental Engineering Consultants Co., Ltd. (EEC) of Thailand. ACS and EEC provided the structural and electro-magnetic design of the gigantic structure. The building is wholly planned by Johnson Control of the USA and designated as a world-class intelligent building.

Colonel Mohd. Ahsanullah (Retd), the Executive Director of Bashundhara City, sounds fairly confident about the safety, security and comfort provided by Bashundhara City. "We have assessed all the likely threats that may occur in the general service market and have taken the necessary precautions," he says. On this criterion, there are two types of security: physical security as well as electronic security. Because security is vital, the authorities have hired about 200 security personnel, including 30 firemen. "The guards are going through a continuous training process and there are daily briefings and assessments from the previous day to pinpoint loopholes in the system and they are corrected to prevent repetition," continues Ahsanullah. Other than this, there will be civilian dressed guards to ensure that security is maintained, without causing panic among the patrons.

"We are trying to create an awareness about the importance of security," says Ahsanullah. Security related warnings will also be announced over the Public Address System. Bags and parcels that are unattended for a certain duration will be taken away.

"We will also have female security guards in certain sections where most of our clientele are ladies," adds Ahsanullah.

About 100 Closed Circuit Televisions have been installed at different vantage points to watch out for trouble makers around the complex, including the different points of entry into the market, the substations and the chillers. There will be round-the-clock security monitors that will be recording the daily activities inside the complex. Apart from this, a squad of four guard dogs known as 'sniffing dogs' are being trained to sniff out explosives. Metal detectors will also be used to prevent illegal arms from entering into the premises. Since selection of suitable candidates for different posts is important, some army officers have been given the duty of personnel selection. These officers have a keen sense of selection as they have served in various intelligence services and have a good understanding of people. Three hundred cleaners will also be working around the clock to keep the environment clean and hygienic. They have also been given fire training and in case of a fire, they will also help to fight the flames.

Four diesel-powered generators will take charge of the electrical needs of the site in case of power surges. Bashundhara City is centrally air conditioned with a refrigeration capacity of 5750 tons from Level 1 through 8. There are also 5 Chillers, 5 Cooling Towers, 15 different pumps, 619 air handling units, 254 fan coil units and 14 exhaust and ventilation fans. Other than that about 61 escalators and 20 lifts, including four capsule elevators in the main hall underneath the giant dome, all brought in from Schindler, Switzerland will add to the comfort and convenience of the visitors to Bashundhara City.

Fire alarm panels have been set up all over the complex to detect fire emergencies. Alongside that, there are 8 fire alarm panels networked from all the levels to control the fire, should one ever break out. Fire hydrants line many walls all over the building complex.

There are extinguishers on every level for spot fires and about 7000 fire and smoke detectors and devices throughout the multiplex. Fire exit doors run from the basement levels to the 19th floor. Other than that, 30 firemen are supposed to always be present on the site to ensure fire safety.

There is car parking facility in the basement of the shopping mall for more than a thousand cars to be parked at the same time. Right in front of the multiplex is a wide roadway, parallel to Panthapath, to avoid traffic congestion on the main road. The underground parking has three entry and exit points. There is also space allotted for taxis and CNGs such that the customers do not have to venture far with their shopping bags in their hands. Also in the Underground section of the complex is a supermarket and a restaurant where the main attraction is Bangladeshi food.

The Main Attractions of Bashundhara City
Levels 1 to 7 of Bashundhara City comprise the shopping complex. Here, more than 2000 shops have been set up to cater to the hustle and bustle of the buyers. International brand goods along with local products will all be available. Add the abundance of boutiques and saree shops and you have the ambience of a bustling mall of Dhaka. If the prices are as competitive as it is in Eastern Plaza, Bashundhara City will surely be a place of good bargain and a shopper's paradise. The prices are also accompanied by a vibrating choice of brands and models in all product categories. Items to look forward to are readymade garments, electrical and electronic gadgets, cosmetics, books, perfume, art, antiques, kitchen appliances, crockery stores, drugs, jewellery, optical accessories, stationary, leather goods, sports equipment and goods and computers, among a swarm of others. Most of the shops are still not fully finished though many will start business as soon as the site is officially open to the public. The tower section of the complex will consist mainly of home appliances, kitchen items and sanitary ware.

Visitors can comfortably stroll through the lavish halls of the centrally air-conditioned complex where each storey is especially designed to cater to the specific needs of the patrons. All that glitters is probably gold in the rows of identical shops glittering with jewellery. In addition, as profusion of silver, precious stones and natural pearl shops will all be situated conveniently around the complex.

One will surely be lost in the shopping adventure and exotic environment set around the centre. With so much on offer, shopping in Bashundhara City will no doubt be a little exhausting because one has to do so much of walking to take everything in, but the experience of this huge complex should be worth it.

One of the major attractions of the City is the Gold's Gym. Originating in Venice, California in 1965, Gold's Gym has been in the business of serious workouts. It is here that many bodybuilders have found a haven to exercise and get that perfectly toned body. Gold's Gym is the largest international gym with 680 fitness centres all over the globe and 3.5 million members. Some of the facilities that they offer include cardio-vascular training, strength training, weight training, fitness assessments, nutrition centre, aerobics, spinning, swimming pool, steam, sauna, jacuzzi and personal lockers. The gyms are totally separate for the male and the female members. To avoid inconvenience, both have separate pool and spa on two different levels of the building.

Special punch-in cards allow the members to access the different facilities and also provides a record of the daily activities. These cards have different membership privileges. The members with the Gold card will also have the additional opportunity to use any Gold's Gym around the world for a duration of 14 days. All memberships are on a yearly basis.

More and more Features…
What's a mall without a food court? Bashundhara City has a space reserved for a hundred food outlets on Level 8. These will offer delicious cuisine from all over the world, all under the same roof. The food court will follow a token system and will have a seating capacity for more than 900 people to dine at the same time.

Perhaps the most exciting offering of Bashundhara City is the 3 Multi-screen Cinema Theatre on Level 8. Show Motion Ltd., a joint venture private company, has reached into this portion of the complex to bring in the latest international blockbusters. State-of-the-art equipment has been brought in to maximise the audio and visual entertainment of the movie lovers of the city. Each of the rooms will have seating arrangements for about 260 viewers with a lot of space left open to bring in a homely atmosphere.

But there is more for the youngsters at this complex. On Level 8, an indoor theme park --'Toggi World'-- has been set up with a miniature Eiffel Tower standing in the middle with the Statue of Liberty and Taj Mahal close by. The first indoor theme park of this calibre, Toggi World features Bumper Cars, a Mini Roller Coaster, Flying Carpet, Kiddy Swing, Merry-Go-Round and many more fun rides for the whole family to enjoy. There is also a section for the toddlers where they have specialised rides. The rides include a Pink Cadillac, a little train, a Piggy and many more. A party area has already been set aside to host special events for children.

For internet buffs is a cyber café housed with High Speed Internet Connectivity. This place is mainly for people to hang-out and have a drink or two while chatting with friends or while surfing on the net.

A large chunk of Level 8 has been set aside for video gamers with electrifying entertainment. The visitors will be logged into the virtual world of games with famous names like SEGA and NAMCO all from Japan.

For those who get their kicks from bringing down rolling pins, there is AMF, the world renowned bowling ally also on this level. All age groups will be allowed here. With music playing in the background and your scores on LCD monitors, this will surely be a fun place to chill out. There is even an ice-skating rink although the ice is artificial.

But what about the horrendous traffic jams that are bound to plague Panthapath with the thousands of visitors to the City? The Sonargaon signal is by far one of the worst signals of that area and once the City is fully operational, the pressure on the traffic there will be immense. The complex has a fairly large parking area which may accommodate some of the vehicles but will probably not do much to relieve the anticipated traffic congestion. Kaiser, a furniture vendor, however, is not too bothered about this. His shop is opposite to Bashundhara City and he is very happy at the recent buzz of crowds. "There will be a lot of traffic, but we will surely get a lot of customers once people start to fill in this area. This is a very neglected part of the area and now it will be a bustling place," a grinning Kaiser remarks. Most shopaholics, and there are many in this city, could not agree more. Ruksana, a regular at all the major malls of the city says: "There is so little to do in Dhaka in terms of entertainment. To have a complex like this right here in the city is definitely something to be excited about."










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