Disco Balls and Design: The Architectural Performance of Night Clubs

Disco Balls and Design: The Architectural Performance of Night Clubs

For decades, cities around the world have been promoting their nightlife scene and the designed spaces in which these activities occur. Occasionally hidden away from the hustle and bustle, offering a sort of escapism from the day-to-day-routine behind red velvet ropes and intense security measures, or sometimes proudly on display for people from all walks of life to congregate and spend the evening under the glisten of a disco ball or flashing lights, nightclubs are an example of how fashion, culture, and societal norms influence an often overlooked and underground side of architecture.

While clubs are often viewed as a sort of “abandoned” space, only activated from late in the evening until early hours of the morning on the weekends, they’re actually often intentionally crafted and curated to create highly-specific experiences, and go much beyond the dramatic visual effects. Nightclubs are over-the-top exercises in creating fantasy worlds, where the details of design fall to the back in order to put spatial arrangements on center stage. By creating various atmospheres, the placement of everything becomes key. Locations of bars, bathrooms, the DJ booth, the size of the dance floor, and its adjacencies are actually more important than the lights, sound, and everything in between.

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Courtesy of Carlo Caldini, Gruppo 9999

The success of nightclubs lies in their ability to blur boundaries, push thresholds, and where parties and events could come together undercover to continue the zeitgeist of a countercultural revolution. In their most simple form, nightclubs existed long before the famous celebrity-filled parties and took on a much more conservative form of working-class dance halls. As time went on people who had united in secret in order to express themselves saw an opportunity emerge in parallel with the mainstream jump in consumerist activity and advancements in technology that allowed them to play music louder and shine lights brighter. As a way to create their own space, these groups felt the need to design a new typology, one that would only serve as a nightclub instead of a space that would need to be converted, and then back again for regular public use.


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A Brief Architectural History of Nightclubs

In 1967, one of the first clubs that was credited with going against the societal grain was Electric Circus, located in New York City. Boasting interiors designed by famed architect Charles Forberg, it used white tented fabric to contrast psychedelic posters and projections. Within a couple of years, these parties would catch on in Europe and involved the younger generation who were a part of the Italian Radical Design Movement. Their designs also focused heavily on multi-media and multi-disciplinary collaborations.

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© Hasse Persson

This intercontinental emergence of club design pushed architects to think beyond the tangible aspects of space, and more about how users would interact with each other. At New York City’s now closed-down Electric Circus, Andy Warhol would host his famous Exploding Plastic Inevitable events that combined music by the Velvet Undergrounds with entrancing light shows. At the same time, Club Cerebrum, a brainchild of up-and-coming artists had guests dress in white gowns, lay on white carpets, and eat marshmallows. At the iconic Studio 54, where only the hippest celebrities of the era were allowed in, having an effective design was critical. Inside of this reconverted theater space, lighting was designed by Broadway specialists to ensure that the aesthetic was the talk of the town.

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Courtesy of OMA

Into the early 1980s, many of these exclusive clubs lost their allure as the middle class sought out places of their own. With mainstream accessibility, prominent, modern architects began to devise their own solutions in imagining the nightclub of the future. OMA proposed a new venue for London’s Ministry of Sound that featured moving walls and a diversity of spaces that could serve different purposes, as OMA claimed that nightclubs were losing their allure. Perhaps a true statement, many cities still have one or two hot spots that people will venture to for a once-in-a-blue-moon night out. For now, the history of clubs shows us that an anything-goes mindset can continue to push the boundaries of design and create spaces where fun follows function.

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Cite: Kaley Overstreet. "Disco Balls and Design: The Architectural Performance of Night Clubs" 05 Dec 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/973008/disco-balls-and-design-the-architectural-performance-of-night-clubs> ISSN 0719-8884

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