Dubai has found its design voice: Pallavi Dean

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Architect muses on her hometown aesthetic as she becomes the face of the Porsche Panamera

by David Light

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Published: Tue 4 May 2021, 4:11 PM

Last updated: Wed 3 May 2023, 4:00 PM

IN A COUNTRY dedicated to providing buildings as astounding and record-breaking as they are good to look at, there is perhaps no better place on Earth for an architect to try and make their mark by proffering the spectacular. Conversely, standing out from a crowd of stand-outs is no mean feat. This design dichotomy is an element with which Pallavi Dean must deal every day. Founder and creative director at Roar, described by Architectural Digest as “one of the hottest boutique design companies in the UAE,” Dean is a trained architect and sustainability specialist who was born in India, though resoundingly calls Dubai home as a result of being raised and furthering her career here. A former professor of interior design at the American University of Sharjah, she strives to implement the latest theoretical and practical research into the firm’s creations and is an active member of the local design community: writing for industry publications, assisting with key trade events and mentoring students in the region.

“Our goal is simple,” Dean says. “Give people an amazing experience in the spaces we design. The staff in an office; the family at home; the children in school; the guests in a restaurant, we wake up and go to work for them.” Flagship Roar projects have included the UAE offices for a global media firm, The Nursery of the Future for the UAE Prime Minister’s Office and Al Rawi bookstore and café in Sharjah. “At heart we’re a bunch of feel- good hippies who put self-help gurus and positive psychologists on the same pedestal as acclaimed architects. We believe this upbeat energy makes a real difference to the work we deliver,” Dean added.

Most recently Dean has been chosen to front a series and campaign based on Porche’s four-seater Panamera model. In the video, which has gone viral across regional platforms, she speaks about the past informing her future work and how key design is to everyday life.

Being brought up in Dubai, how does the city speak to your architect’s eye?

Dubai is a very young and dynamic city. Throughout my career I’ve seen both the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab being built which was a very special architectural milestone. The UAE knows no boundaries and is open to experimentation to become a global leader when it comes to signature or legacy architecture. In my opinion, Dubai has found its design voice and gone from wanting to create the biggest and boldest to more contextually conscious architecture which respects not just the heritage of the country but encourages the local community to engage with it.

What would you say is your trademark finish with a project? What makes it a ‘Pallavi’ or ‘Roar’ design?

As a studio we do not have a signature style and work across various sectors from residential to hospitality, commercial to education. Even though we don’t have a signature style, we do have a design philosophy that we all subscribe to, and that philosophy is about user experience. For us, it’s about understanding the needs and wants and desires of our customers. The journey begins with a very scientific process that is user driven and its evidence based – whether it’s designing a restaurant concept that offers a sense of escapism, or an office space that champions productivity and wellness. This is where I find a real synergy between Roar and the Panamera: it’s beautiful but it’s also functional and there is science and technology behind it.

How do you believe different aspects of your life such as your work or home define you?

I think what I do is an extension of my identity which carries throughout every aspect of my life. My work is design-oriented, but there is always that conscious effort to be sustainable, to be empathetic, to be user and design focused which is what I take home.

What made you decide to get involved with the car campaign?

When the best-in-class, world’s leading automotive brand approaches you, it’s a no brainer. The partnership was a trip down the memory lane for me because Porsche wanted to showcase my story, so it was very interesting to revisit some of my stories from the past and stitch together a narrative which tied in nicely into the Panamera’s own story.

Were you always a car fan from a design point of view?

I have two children and I’m a working mum, so for me a car can’t just be beautiful – it has to be practical too. Coincidentally, I drive a Panamera myself, so the car is the perfect blend of functionality and beauty. If you were an artist drawing the shape of it, it’s one stroke – it has beautiful soft curves which, in my view, makes it quite feminine and ties in with my personality. It’s fierce but feminine. Bold yet graceful. It doesn’t shout but it whispers; it has a quite resilient beauty which I love about it.

Where is your favourite area to drive and why?

I grew up in Sharjah, so for me going to Mleiha which is where the ad was shot is very special because you’re in nature which is real and raw, but there’s a manmade road which takes you to Buhais.

What would the small Pallavi growing up in Dubai say if you told her in the future, she’d be working on a Porsche campaign?

I wouldn’t believe it! I still pinch myself and when I think about the experience, but it made me realise that local artists are now best in class on a global stage which is why international brands want to work with us.