"The Secret Room": Exclusive Night Club in Dubai

Hidden through an underground passage of the Five Palm Jumeirah hotel

Architect  :  Studio Paolo Ferrari     /    Photos  ©  Virgile Bertrand

Gold Key Award Winner 2019 for Best Nightclub/Lounge 

Shortlisted Frame Awards 2020 for Best Bar

A surrealist speakeasy has opened in the heart of Dubai. The Secret Room, designed by Toronto-based Paolo Ferrari, is a nightclub that deftly threads together space and time with authenticity. The complex design draws inspiration from the far corners of the world—not unlike the cultural panoply of Dubai—and grounds it within the subterranean depths of the Five Palm Jumeirah Hotel.

“When we started this project, we had a visual of Villa Farnese [a Renaissance-era mansion in Rome], then we spliced it with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate,” says Ferrari of The Secret Room’s early inspiration. Then, to anchor the idea of bacchanalian decadence with a feeling of noble restraint, the design team employed the concept of duality. “We articulated this as the duality of history (the past) and invention (the future),” explains Ferrari. “It’s about creating a kind of ambiguity of time and place.” Through that lens, a series of time-travelling assemblages could complement each other, rather than overwhelm.

The Dalí-esque statement bar speaks to the future, while soft furnishings conjure up an aesthetic reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s. The classic interior architecture of the walls, ceiling, and floors delves farther back still, alluding to pre-20th century. These elements were also loosely inspired by the final moments of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, set in a Louis XIV-era French bedroom. “That scene has always resonated for me,” Ferrari says. “There is an incredible tension between the interior architecture, but at the same time it feels uncomplicated.” A similar affect is achieved in The Secret Room and, with it, a nod to retrofuturism is made clear.

The bronze-coloured arched bar acts as a luminous showstopper in the nightclub. It serves as a visually weighty object of discovery for guests, and exudes an aerodynamic feel while also anchoring the space. The fibreglass bar was meticulously 3-D modelled from the inside-out then milled from custom moulds—not unlike fabricating a custom speedboat—and its design is mirrored in the sculpted aesthetic of the host and DJ station. A series of pedestal drink tables are cast from clear resin and meant to recall the physical shape of liquid. These elements contrast with the carved wooden walls and smoked oak flooring, along with an artwork inspired by classic Italian bacchanal paintings and their hedonistic tendencies. It was hand-painted in Canada over a series of six months.

Indeed, the seduction of an underground lair invites a sense of artistry from those who set foot within the multi-faceted speakeasy. “For us, The Secret Room is a unicorn in our portfolio. Itis a reminder that a great club pulls on your alter ego,” says Ferrari. “And, whether you’re going to Berghain in Berlin or recalling the days of Studio 54, it’s all about theatre.” True to form, access to the club is granted with a futuristic flourish: via fingerprint.

Mirrors throughout the nightclub visually expand the sultry space, but it is upon opening a door to the bathroom that guests are transported to The Secret Room’s most experimental area. The act of moving from a dimly-lit panelled corridor to an expansive, multi-dimensional space is otherworldly. “The reference point, also from Kubrick, is like looking into outer space,” says Ferrari of the design. The execution of the floor’s glass finish was a particular challenge, as it had to take into account texture and slip resistance while not dulling its striking visual impact.

Studio Paolo Ferrari


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