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Multi-award-winning designer Pallavi Dean: “I would be nowhere without AUS”
Architectural Digest Middle East Interior Designer of the Year 2020 and alumnus of American University of Sharjah’s (AUS) College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) Pallavi Dean was in ninth grade when she received her first commendation award.
“That’s when I had my lightning bolt moment: hard work and effort equals results.”
Now the founder and creative director of Roar—one of the UAE’s leading boutique design firms—Dean continues to be impacted by this ethos. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., she wakes up early to get a four-hour head start on her day, doing her deep, focused creative work without interruption.
With a team of young, predominantly female creatives, Dean has continued to set the bar high for interior design in the region. Roar’s design philosophy is “50 percent tame, 50 percent wild”, with clients seeking them out for creating eclectic spaces across the commercial, food and beverage, hospitality, education and residential sectors. In 2020, Roar took home three Commercial Interior Design Awards for the Japanese-inspired Takeda headquarters and Mezza House, a contemporary Levantine restaurant in Dubai and Boutique Interior Design Firm of the year.
“It’s not about awards. It could be in your favor one year or one day, but not another. I think you have to focus on the consistency and quality your work. A few benchmarks for me, other than the awards and accolades, are repeat clients, happy colleagues and just a being creatively content” said Dean.
One thing that is consistent about Dean is her refreshingly grounded perspective. As one of AUS’ pioneer students, she has maintained strong ties with the university, returning as a visiting faculty member in 2011, serving as a mentor to current students and an enthusiastic employer and supporter of CAAD graduates. For Dean, this continued relationship with AUS is an expression of her gratitude for the support she believes led her to where she is today.
“One of the big things that I always say about AUS is that I would be nowhere if I didn’t have my scholarship. There was one point where I didn’t have the financial means to complete my degree. I almost had to give up in my fourth year of the architecture program to get a job, but the university was so supportive. Getting a 90 percent scholarship, getting a job as a teaching assistant—when you are 19 you can’t appreciate the gravity of those little gestures,” she said.
“Looking back, I feel I was so supported by the right professors, the government and regulatory bodies to give me that opportunity. Right now, at the stage I am in, time is the most valuable commodity I have, so this is a way of giving back and sharing the blessings that I’ve had.”
As a young architecture graduate, Dean worked for some of the world’s leading firms, including Norr, RMJM, PRP Architects in London, and Godwin Austin Johnson, where she was the youngest associate on staff.
“To be the youngest associate in a big, multinational practice was another pat on the back and reassurance that, even though I was just coming up in my architecture and interior design career, someone with a lot more experience and expertise had recognized my talent and given me this opportunity—regardless of my age, my gender, my nationality—to come into that level,” she said.
At first, Dean felt intimidated entering the workforce with a degree from what was then a relatively unknown institution. Almost 20 years on, AUS is among the top 200 universities globally and number one in the UAE for architecture and the built environment, according to QS World University Rankings (2020).
“Practicing at these big firms, I came to a realization that I have a stellar, first-class degree that allowed me to stand at the same platforms and have the same level of experience and expertise as any other person from top-tier universities. Now I am a big advocate that AUS is on par with any other university anywhere in the world because of the quality of faculty,” she said.
Now an employer herself, Dean has benefited from the UAE’s growing pool of design talent and continues to be impressed with the quality of CAAD graduates. But, perhaps looking for qualities of her own character in her employees, it’s the soft skills that Dean is drawn to most.
“I can find a million designers who have the software skills, but that’s not what I am after. I want those who have emotional intelligence, a sense of responsibility, a detached sense of privilege. I want someone where I can see that hunger, passion and real curiosity for design to be part of our studio. I do find from attending reviews and talking to the professors that AUS students have that level of drive and courteous respect towards the profession and towards others,” said Dean.
For more information about the College of Architecture, Art and Design and its impressive alumni, students and faculty, visitwww.aus.edu/caad.