Pallavi Dean, founder and creative director, Agata Kurzela, design director, and Kathryn Athreya, managing director, are the mind and soul behind the Roar design agency, formerly known as Pallavi Dean Interiors, which was recently renamed and restructured, both conceptually and concretely. They are proud to work in the Dubai Design District, the city’s creative heart, and they are currently working on projects in eight countries, including Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, the UK and naturally the UAE. The choice of the company’s name fully expresses the vital, design-oriented energy of these three women headed by Pallavi Dean, who was born in India and raised in Dubai during the years when design was preparing to explode in the capital, a trend that led her to first study architecture at the American University of Sharjah and then design at Central Saint Martins in London. A series of experiences then led her to develop an interest in interior design, a middle ground between small-scale and large-scale architecture. “This city is part of me,” says Pallavi. “It has shaped me. It is where I studied, met my husband and where my profession is evolving. We have grown together and this influences my work.”
Talk to us about the studio’s recent rebranding.
Our team work has become very synergistic and we therefore wanted to come up with a name that encapsulates our unique characteristics: personality, authenticity, strength, energy and emotion. Hence Roar. Furthermore, each of us has been repositioned in our own specific roles.
What is the common goal and how do you reconcile your individual differences, including cultural differences? (You are Indian, Agata is Polish and Kathryn is Australian).
Probably the most accurate answer is that we do not reconcile them at all. But we grow thanks to our diversity and our multitude of different influences. It is precisely what enriches our work and sets it apart from the rest. Each of us has our own unique approach, style and preferences, but we are united by a shared purpose: to provide a human experience to those who inhabit the spaces that we design, improving their quality of life and respecting their culture. We apply this rule starting from our studio. In any case, our office is surrounded by multiethnicity, which is a distinctive feature of the city and indeed of the UAE.
What creative process do you follow in order to “create experiences through design”?
We carry out considerable research so that we have a thorough understanding of the end users of the space. It is by no means easy, which is why we have developed a special tool, our UXD (User Experience Design), which guides customers through a meticulous step-by-step process leading to the start of the project.
What inspires you?
The secret behind a good design is a good story. This is what captivates the end user. We have done a lot of research in this regard and have discovered various narrative categories such as nature, history, innovation and local culture… Generally, our style embraces these themes.
Let’s talk about the recent project for the Edelman office, which won an award.
One of the challenges when it comes to a company like Edelman is that it embraces two different worlds: the staff that it needs to attract are young, fresh, creative Millennials who wear jeans and t-shirts; the customers are senior managers working for banks, large companies and political administrations. The design had to connect these two demographics. We created a network of “Cultural Villages”, separated cities within a city, adding different levels of colour, texture and furniture to give every nucleus its own personality. The main work area, where the majority of staff work, is playful and dynamic, boasting a vibrant color scheme. By contrast, Urban Park is a public space with an amphitheatre and a café, which are perfect for informal meetings. City Loft is a more mature, sophisticated area: a flexible hybrid between a meeting room, co-working space and private office.
What about the Al Rawi café bookstore project?
It was commissioned by Sheikha Bodour, who owns a publishing house and is one of the driving forces behind the Sharjah Literature Festival, so the project was a natural extension of her interests. The city is a ‘home’ for many university students in the region and it made sense to create a restaurant, a store and an events space united by the theme of books. Al Rawi means ‘storyteller’ and the design is full of discreet, abstract literary inspiration. The wavy texture of the handrail and partitions, for example, is inspired by the stitches used to bind pages.
What are you working on at the moment?
Sometimes, it seems like the list never ends, but that certainly is not something to complain about. We are working on three new concepts for the First National Bank in Saudi Arabia, on some office furnishings, on the design of the Sharjah Research and Technology Park, on a series of residential projects and on an installation for Oasis Paints planned for the next Downtown Design exhibition. It is also very important for us to give something back to the design community, so we are currently collaborating with Heriot-Watt University for a semester of co-teaching. One of the things that thrills me is taking Roar overseas. India and Africa are calling.