'Magic happens when art and science collide'

Yang Di
Pallavi Dean is an architect and interior designer based in Dubai, where she runs a design studio Roar. 
Yang Di
Magic happens when art and science collide
Courtesy of Pallavi Dean / Ti Gong

Pallavi Dean

Who is she?

Pallavi Dean is an architect and interior designer based in Dubai, where she runs a design studio Roar. She’s Indian but never lived in India, having been raised in the UAE. Pallavi studied and taught architecture at a local university and gained her Masters in the US. She spent two years working in London (her husband and kids are British). In 2016 she debuted her furniture line “Tension,” a collaboration with Stellar Works of Shanghai.

Tell us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of?

I have two children — I have to love them both equally! It’s the same with projects. But if I have to pick one space I love going back to, it’s Shababeek, a restaurant in Sharjah. We really nailed the fusion of influences from contemporary Lebanon, Art Deco Paris and Ancient Rome, all with a subtle Emirati twist.

Are you currently involved with any project?

We’re working on a bunch of restaurants for Expo 2020 Dubai (now pushed back to 2021), taking Dubai’s old street food brands and giving them a modern twist. We’ve just handed over an office for McKinsey & Co. As a boutique design consultancy, it’s fascinating to work with the firm that pretty much invented the consulting industry.

Describe your design style?

We don’t have a design style, because substance eats style for breakfast. But we do have a design philosophy at roar: 50 percent wild, 50 percent tame. The wild side is the artistic free spirit that gives a building its wow factor — letting your imagination run wild. The tame side is the scientific, evidence-based design that makes a building function. The reality is that there’s a lot of math in construction, from parametric structures to dynamic models for optimizing office layout. Like Steve Jobs said, the magic happens when art and science collide.

I know some studios have a signature ‘design aesthetic’ but I’d hate to force-feed a client, say, Scandinavian minimalism just because that’s what we do. In reality, one team will be creating a mature office with leather, wood and gold, while the next team will be working on a funky, colorful co-working space for a tech start-up.

Where are you most creative?

In a deep work space, by myself, with my pencils, sketchpad, MacBook and coffee. Collaboration spaces play a useful role, but to get stuff done we need a quiet, calm setting with no distractions.

What does your home mean to you?

We were very deliberate in designing a home to deliver experiences that matter to us. Relaxing, entertaining, exercising and reading for the adults; play, socializing and enrichment — like playing the piano — for the kids.

What do you collect?

Awards. OK, only joking! Sure, awards are nice but our real motivation is happy clients and happy users of the spaces we design. The staff in an office; the family in a home; the guests in a hotel. They’re who we really work for.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

For design, I love the PuLi hotel, and have never stopped kicking myself for not staying there when we visited. I’m a big fan of wandering around the tree-lined downtown area full of historic architecture. But I also love the industrial area. When I was designing my furniture line in 2016 I dragged my family along, but we all fell in love with the city. Out trip to the Stellar Works factory was, quite genuinely, a highlight.

What will be the next big design trend?

You have to ignore passing fads when you’re designing buildings, because people have to live with them for decades. But I think COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way we live, work and study — commuting will be the enduring casualty of coronavirus. Conversely, I think it will have minimal long-term impact on hospitality — by 2022 we’ll all be back in crowded hotels, restaurants and cheering in stadiums at rock concerts.

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