BEIRUT: A large multifaceted sculpture grows from Nabil Dada’s office on the fifth floor of the Hermes building in Beirut Souks. Like a giant lantern tipped on its side, the modern, geometric shape offers a hint of the conversation to follow.
Dada leads Dada & Associates Interior Design SARL, the interior architecture and design company responsible for some of Downtown’s iconic structures. Take the Mohammad al-Amine Mosque, where beneath its iconic blue dome is a dizzying garden of golden arabesque flowers growing up to a cupola 42 meters above the floor and hand painted with calligraphed excerpts from the Quran.
Other monuments he worked on include the expansion of the Grand Serail, the government’s monolithic and impenetrable Ottoman-era headquarters. As the interior of his office suggests, however, Dada has been occupied recently by contemporary-style projects, the most public of which sits less than a kilometer away from both the mosque and Grand Serail.
Cinema City is the latest addition to Beirut Souks, the ever-under construction megamall meant to revitalize a Downtown flattened by Civil War. The opening of the theater in mid-January added another towering structure to Dada’s CV of important Beirut building projects, albeit, one that drew from the present rather than the past for inspiration.
The interior lobbies are explosions of visual effects. Dada put an emphasis on glass to reveal layers of LED screens and changing colored lights visible from the floors beneath.
“The concept is very dynamic and lively to make the young moviegoers really excited even before going into the cinema,” Dada told The Daily Star.
There are several changing elements that add to the avant-garde interior. The first, Dada explains, are the panoramic elevators that change colors as they rise and fall through the theater’s three floors. They are something out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as the transparent shafts ascend above the final floor and break through the ceiling as though they continue on to the heavens.
Aiding in that illusion is a ceiling, visible from the floors below, made from 256 LED screens that often display an animated sky of roaming cumulus clouds or other visuals. Bursts of primary colors overload the senses: colorful escalators, cube sofas in red, yellow and blue and lobby lights that dim and alternate colors every 15 minutes.
“They can go there and stay for a coffee or a snack. They’re not obliged to go to the cinemas because really the experience there is quite nice,” Dada said.
Indeed the owners of Cinema City were aiming for a concession area with enough options to bring in non-moviegoers. To make that happen, Dada needed to make the cafeteria space one worth lounging in despite theater-priced refreshments. A 40-meter counter space was decorated by local street artists with the faces of Hollywood’s legendary stars. There are other nods to classic Hollywood, like a 50-meter corridor leading to the theaters that projects scenes from “King Kong” and a couple dancing tango.
Dada didn’t spare a detail. The cafeteria seating by Italian designer Sawaya & Moroni is a contemporary chair design, the back of which curls back and into the legs. The only other entity to own more than 20 of these designer chairs is Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion giant now in charge of Chanel.
In his move to contemporary design, Dada has taken on more private projects as well.
Dada recently renovated a 40-meter yacht, the Lady in Blue, a project of a completely different scale. Instead of filling thousands of square meters with flashing colors and moving pictures, the yacht required a detailed study of every centimeter. Renovating a yacht is like designing a “moving villa,” he says, where luxury is key despite low ceilings and cramped common spaces.
Dada’s vision for the yacht was a mixture of conservative minimalism with hints of Art Deco.
To maximize space, the design team used white throughout the ship almost exclusively, despite a few splashes of blue – an obvious nod to the vessel’s name. It was with texture rather than color that Dada added a feeling of luxury to the master bedroom with white leather upholstery covering the ceiling and half the walls, he said.
The guest bedrooms, likely to be occupied by children and teens, got mesh storage space to keep the rooms feeling open.
And lacquered teak covers every corner of the public lounge and bar space, which despite its dark varnish lengthens the indoor cabin as it draws the eye across the horizontal boards.
It wasn’t the Ottomans but modern-day Turks that influenced Dada’s design decisions above deck. He wrapped the decks with the same deep sofa seating found on Turkish gulets, common wooden sailing vessels.
“I go – or I used to go – a lot to Turkey and I see these gulets,” Dada said. “They always use this system. ... You have sofas in some areas, you have armchairs in some areas, but if you have a space for that, this is very relaxing and comfortable seating.”