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The world's largest tent

CompanyMatthew Gregg, market manager, Gap Inc. Middle EastComment

It’s built to withstand the forces of nature. It’s the world’s largest of its kind. And it stands proud in the centre of Kazakhstan’s new capital city, Astana.

Still guessing? I bet you are.

I’m talking about the largest, transparent tent structure in the world – inside of which we opened our first Gap store in Kazakhstan, in the Khan Shatyr, or “Royal Marquee.”

Honestly, this has got to rank as one of the most original shopping malls in the world. Still being honest here: It’s breathtaking, strange and beautiful, all at once.

I’d know. Approaching to the mall on my first visit, this massive thing rose out of the earth as if the circus had set up permanently. I was dumbstruck. How can we create something so stunning and atypical from steel and glass? The snow was falling at the time (it often does in Astana) and that seemed a fitting companion to the structure’s icy beauty.

This shopping mall dome was built to handle extremes in temperatures from +35oC to -28oC. It’s larger than 10 football stadiums and includes an indoor beach resort and a boating river.

To get our first Gap franchise store opened here, we had some unique problems, which goes with the territory of going global: heavy snow, freezing temps and language barriers. This made things "interesting" as we hustled ahead of the opening, our arms piled high with jeans and khaki.

I bet Doris and Don Fisher, who founded Gap more than 40 years ago, never would have imagined greeting customers by saying, “Salem,” inside a shopping mall under the world’s largest tent.