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Forming the’ decadent sunset world’ of nightclubs

Famous associations have offered artists the perfect scaffold to design fantasy environments, says Chris Hall

Caligula throwing “states parties ” ,” was how the funk musician Rick James described the legendary Studio 54 in New York, which opened in 1977. There was a cocaine snort” Man and the Spoon” feature that would condescend from the ceiling when necessary, there are still mounds of cash in the back chamber, unisex bathrooms and stunts like Bianca Jagger riding a horse on the dancefloor led by a naked serviceman covered in gold glitter.

The key happening about Studio 54, which features in a new exhibit about world-wide fraternity culture at Vitra Design Museum, was its adaptability. It could become a different fiction environment to act as backdrop for the outrageous dress and theatre of the party goers- such as when four tonnes of glitter were dropped from the club’s ceiling on New Year’s Eve or when the fashion designer Valentino had a circus-themed birthday party with sand and mermaids on trapezes.

” The 60 s and 70 s saw the increase of the idea that you don’t design a nightclub, you returning the negligible layout components to make a nightclub ,” says Catharine Rossi, a pattern historian at Kingston University, who has co-curated the exhibition.” What’s important is not the physical room- actually the nightclub is just a container. Clubs are made through lighting and sound, psychotropic stimulants and parties .”

A region to crash: Manchester’s post-industrial Hacienda with hazard-marking stripes on the pillars. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Kelly

A brand-new stage set would induce a new persona.” Historically, nightclubs have sufficed as seats for freedom of expression and safe spaces because they’re obscured ,” says Rossi.” They’re conceal from daytime norms and presuppositions about behaviour and identity. At darknes we can try out different identities .”

Playing with personas was something Andy Warhol was drawn to at Studio 54, where he would document this emerging culture with its transformative potentials. The association had a door policy where simply celebrities and the beautiful or unconventional were allowed in- those striving their 15 times of prominence. This was a surreal, decadent, autumn macrocosm and whether it was Truman Capote, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones or Andy Warhol, it was mutually beneficial, the club burnishing their portrait and vice versa.

The exhibition will be crammed with a fascinating money of layout detail to go with the photographs and prototypes- interior furnishings, igniting, book intend, pattern, and the graphics of flyers and posters. One of the exhibition areas will be devoted to a bang and illuminating station, without fairly being a mock-up of a nightclub.” If you’re going to do an exhibit about nightclubs ,” shows Rossi,” then elements like ambiance and ordeal are key parts of the design of the rooms and how that blueprint is ingested or known .”

Staying cool: the Philippe Starck-designed Les Bains Douches in Paris. Photograph: Foc Kan

In the 70 s and 80 s, New York golf-clubs, such as Area, Club 57, the Mudd Club, Paradise Garage and the Palladium, offered a innovative scaffold to artists. Nightclubs became galleries. Keith Haring designed flyers and biddings, arranged exhibitions and installations, and decorated a huge mural inside the Palladium. His canvas was also the human body, coating Grace Jones with his signature kinetic pulls for a live recital at Paradise Garage in New York in 1985.

Another famed club that features heavily in the exhibition is the Hacienda in Manchester, with its innovative post-industrial design.” Nightclubs have advanced in line with the changing nature of our metropolis ,” says Rossi.” In the 1980 s for example, the post-industrial city led to the opening up of spaces from warehouses to mills .” Whereas Studio 54 was about exclusivity and decadence, the Hacienda was about inclusivity and a different kind of escapism. In short, it was the difference between cocaine and ecstasy.

Ben Kelly, who designed the Hacienda, says that it seemed logical to him to use the visual language of factory interiors given that it was a former yacht showroom and had an industrial feel.” There was a line of lines loping through the space, which inevitably would be hazardous where people were boozing and dancing. I put stripes normally used as hazard markers in the workplace on the editorials in the nightclub, and yellow-and-black stripes on to the riser of the stage. There was another safety issue getting on and off the invoked dance flooring, so I employed roadside bollards and set cat’s seeings into the concrete flooring. The industrial expression derived through practical reasons .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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