Untitled Dubai Topos Project

FIND : NYU Abu Dhabi / New York

FIND Summer 2014 Fellow Raja'a Khalid explored the artificially constructed environments of Dubai
www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project / Summer 2014


The Untitled Dubai Topos Project began as an expansive reflection on the phantom aspects of public spaces in Dubai. By reconciling a process of appropriation, with artifacts of modern living, I have produced a series of works in collaboration with locally based institutions in an attempt to architecturally critique urban space here, specifically its most spectral features. The aim here is to splinter a spatial ‘whole,’ pull apart veneers, and present a deconstructed inventory of sights, sounds and smells, that embody the aesthetics of public space in a neo-liberal-capitalist society while maintaining a patina of cultural specificity.

1. Patchouli Oriental

Based on the famous patchouli-based fragrance designed by French perfumer Blaise Mautin for Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme, the Park Hyatt Dubai lobby also uses a signature fragrance, ‘Patchouli Oriental.’ The front desk receives so many compliments and questions regarding the scent, that the concierge has a prepared card listing the details of the fragrance including the contact of the scent-marketing firm that provides the bespoke and exclusive scent.

"Patchouli Oriental" Park Hyatt Dubai ambience scent oil, water, aroma diffuser, real-touch orchid in pot, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
“Patchouli Oriental” Park Hyatt Dubai ambience scent oil, water, aroma diffuser, real-touch orchid in pot

The only thing that the card does not list is where to purchase “Patchouli Oriental” as an individual buyer. Although the scent is not available for retail at Park Hyatt Dubai, the original perfumer’s contract allowed the local manufacturer and distributor of the fragrance to retail the ‘exclusive’ blend under a generic name for a nominal fee, not an uncommon practice in the fragrance industry. Currently, the ‘Patchouli Oriental’ lobby scent is available to purchase as an essential oil (for use in aroma diffusers) under a different name, at a popular retail department store in Dubai. The retail price for a 30 ml bottle is 25AED.

Members of the public, who purchase the scent unaware of its background, are taking a vital element of the Park Hyatt’s luxury hotel environment into their homes, all due to a clause in a perfume manufacturers’ contract. They can expect their homes and offices to smell of a refined, sophisticated blend of patchouli, vanilla, orange, rose, sandalwood, leather, wood, musk and magnolia (amongst other more subtle, unidentified notes), much like the lobby of the Park Hyatt Dubai, a fact that remains unknown to them due to the generic labeling.

2. Boutique Noir

The following concept brief was sent to a well-established scent-marketing firm in Dubai.

Boutique X

Welcome to Boutique X, the forward-looking concept with a head-turning new take on fashion, art and design. Boutique X invites you to discover the newest trends of each season with a wide range of over 300 designers, organized in four well-selected departments to tailor to everyone’s taste; stretching from Women’s Designer, Contemporary, Men’s Designer to Trend. Boutique X is a full on experience of fashion frenzy with 40 boutiques offering luxurious and bespoke collections, hip young designs and a fashion forward team ready to guide you through your visit to find your dream purchase. The store also carries many amenities to gratify your specific wishes ranging from the ultimate fashion search to personal styling, shoe restoration, culinary relief and a full-time concierge service.

The store is uniquely modern and appeals to an international demographic. Boutique X specifically houses brands that are at the cutting edge of design, juxtaposing aesthetics and attention to detail with an emphasis on craft and an eclectic use of materials and custom developed fabrics.

Our clientele are young professionals (Age bracket - 20-35), sophisticated, global travellers based in multiple cities including Dubai, Tokyo, London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Beirut etc. They are hip, fashion savvy, entrepreneurs or working mostly in the creative art, design, architecture, fashion and film industries. The atmosphere of the store is contemporary, minimal, and cool, with smooth jazz and instrumental chill out lounge ambient music. The environment we are trying to create is sophisticated but relaxed.

Boutique X is located at the high-end section of a popular shopping mall in Dubai, which has a footfall of approximately 75 million visitors per year.

Prolitec aroma diffuser, "Boutique Noir" ambience fragrance, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
Prolitec aroma diffuser, “Boutique Noir” ambience fragrance

The following recommendations were made by the scent-marketing firm from their existing catalog of fragrances. “Boutique Noir” fragrance was chosen and installed using a Prolitec aroma diffuser.

Leather Lux

The enlivening scent of soft leather, zesty mandarin, white tea, and bergamot. Revved up with distinct notes of freesia and orange blossom, and veering to enchanting amber, musk, and oakmoss.


Boutique Noir

Edgy and chic! Pepper-infused mango combined with the earthy and musky aroma of leather. Wet woods add sophistication and warmth. This fragrance is warm and slightly industrial. Ideal for hotels or facilities trying to add warmth to modern design.

3. Palm Leaf

Freshly cut palm fronds from a Phoenix Canariensis (native to the Canary Islands and cultivated in Spain, Italy, Australia, Bermuda, the United States and New Zealand) are collected from growing grounds and taken to specialized manufacturing facilities. The leaves are placed in a trough containing a proprietary biotech preservation solution. The leaves draw the solution up into the plant, replacing the water in their cells with the preservative. During these steps the deterioration process of the plant material slows down and eventually comes to a complete stop. The solution includes humectants to keep leaves soft and pliable and to prevent them from becoming crispy. The solution contains a fire retardant for safety and also green dyes to keep leaves looking lush. A palm tree trunk is recreated using either natural wood bark or coconut shell pieces; a rough fabric mesh is added as for extra authenticity. The process retains the natural characteristics of the foliage including the natural dried tip of the leaves. Preserved palm trees can be designed with multipurpose integrated usage, which can include everything from misting devices, lighting and speakers, to security cameras and surveillance systems.

Preserved palm leaf, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
Pictured here is a rented preserved palm leaf. Prices for full scale preserved trees start at approximately 10,000 USD.

A ubiquitous reminder of the state and its bureaucratic apparatus within the city, the date palm in Dubai is both constantly revered and repeatedly ignored. Inside and out, the trees’ omnipresence is analogous to an all-watching patriarchy (and its unapproachable standards), and so it is pertinent then, that it should persist within the same space, in multiple states of its own existence. The preserved palm trees that recur in almost Escheresque manner in climate-controlled interior spaces are incidentally nothing more then images of their former selves, ‘embalmed’ for the lack of a better word, for the purposes of public space beautification projects.

Preserved palm leaf, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project

4. Oud Counter

Givaudan (Switzerland) and Firmenich (Switzerland) are two of the six industrial scent and flavor giants that manufacture nearly all the smells in all scented products in the world. Between the two of them “Black Agar” (by Givaudan) and “Oud Blend” (by Firmenich) provide Oud notes to virtually all perfumes with Oud basenotes including those listing organic extracts. While several Middle Eastern oil-based perfumers occasionally cite the use of authentic Oud extracts in their blends, occasionally, the extracts are used in conjunction with synthetic notes such ‘Black Agar’ and ‘Oud Blend’ to extend volume.

Acrylic pedestal, "Black Agar" synthetic Oud note (Givaudan), "Oud Blend" synthetic Oud note (Firmenich), Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
Acrylic pedestal, “Black Agar” synthetic Oud note (Givaudan), “Oud Blend” synthetic Oud note (Firmenich)

In Dubai the Oud scent takes on its own spatial form and liveliness; here it is a highly institutional, bureaucratic smell. An affective and aesthetic depiction of systems, it arrives, moves, parts and departs, all the while commanding one to forge a filial bond with it. While a genuine Oud extract would be more representative of the socio-political circuit of Oud perfumes (extraction, manufacturing, branding, selling), these synthetic notes further elucidate on the moment of encounter that takes place between the authentic extract and its own image. The two synths reside on a plinth, (a remake of an existing Oud counter at a popular shopping mall in Dubai), which simultaneously acts as an abstraction, a monolith and a convenient sampling station.

Acrylic pedestal, "Black Agar" synthetic Oud note (Givaudan), "Oud Blend" synthetic Oud note (Firmenich), Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project

5. Music Player

An online account is created with a London-based firm specializing in providing bespoke ambient music content for hotel lobbies, shopping malls and restaurants. The project brief specifically requested music playlists suitable for an international demographic, in a uniquely modern city, in a relaxing, high-end combination retail, dining and recreation shopping mall environment. Key music genres could include (but need not be limited to) cool and relaxed chill out instrumental pieces, lounge music with a Middle Eastern edge and mid-paced jazz mosaics.

The ambient music player is installed on a PC alongside a patented Islamic prayer software that triggers a fade out of the music one minute prior to the “Adha’an” (Islamic call to prayer), plays a pre-recorded “Adha’an” track, followed by a minute of silence after which it triggers the music player to fade in again and resume playing the ambient music. The fading out of ambient music in shopping malls and minutes of silence on either side of “Adha’an” are a requirement of AWQAF (General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, UAE). The prayer software follows the prayer times as provided by AWQAF, however, in the event of an AWQAF web server crash, the prayer software links to a NASA clock in order to continue playing the Adha’an at the correct times.

Laptop with ambient music player, patented Islamic prayer software, speakers, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
Laptop with ambient music player, patented Islamic prayer software, speakers

The patent for the Islamic prayer software is held by a Dubai-based acoustic engineering firm, that provides acoustical support to a host of Dubai institutions and public spaces.

Laptop with ambient music player, patented Islamic prayer software, speakers, Raja'a Khalid, 2014, Original Source: http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/untitled-dubai-topos-project
Credits: Story

Created by — Raja'a Khalid

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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