Julian Taylor Design Associates
According to British architect Julian Taylor, the recession of the early 1990s forced the design industry to a standstill. By mid-decade, though, England was pulling out of the slump, and for architects, nightlife commissions were driving the tugboat, Taylor points out. “Themed bars were a huge growth industry,” he says. Indeed, when Taylor decided to open Hampshire, U.K.–based Julian Taylor Design Associates in 2000, leisure clients provided the bulk of the work. And as the world again stares down economic hard times, he believes top-end nightclubs, restaurants, and bars will prove to be a recession-proof part of the market.
That’s because these spaces represent a fierce business. “Clubs have to reinvent themselves to keep up with the current trends,” says Taylor. The reincarnation of Attica, a former destination in London’s Soho, is a case in point. In the 1990s, celebrities like Donatella Versace swept through its unmarked doors, crowding onto the black room’s tiny dance floor and sipping the house Cristal on tufted black leather seats.
But several years ago, club owner Marcell Allessi noticed what Taylor calls “a kind of return to disco” in nightclub trends. These days, the architect says, “Customers don’t want designs to take themselves too earnestly, but to be fun like they were in the mid-’80s.” Self-serious, though, is exactly how one would have described Attica’s midnight opulence. So, in order to maintain his pole position, Allessi commissioned Taylor to reinvent Attica as 24 London—a multidimensional venue that could play as a hip nightspot, corporate event space, or even a children’s birthday party room over the course of a day.
Boasting spatial similarities with its predecessor, the plan of the new, 3,200-square-foot club roughly forms an L shape, with a bar and low-slung booths separated by translucent polyester curtains running along either side of the main volume. Between them, Panton chairs around candelabra-topped tables greet guests at cocktail hour. This furniture is then hauled away for late-night dancing.
“There was no intrinsic flaw,” Taylor says of Attica’s circulation, “but the look is completely different.” And the difference between Attica and 24 London is literally black and white. Only resin-covered pebble flooring provides a counterpoint to 24 London’s white walls; high-gloss white tables; and satin-finished, white laminate and Corian-topped bar.
Besides making 24 London appear like the antithesis of Attica, Taylor chose the all-white scheme because, he says, “You can change the entire flavor of the site with color.” All of the white surface treatments were chosen for their ability to uniformly distribute colors from the custom LED-embedded wall washers—part of an off-the-shelf combined DJ and lighting system that includes a DMX-controlled light desk.
Moreover, Allessi may never have to renovate again, due to a technological element that permits endless reinvention. While mirror balls suspended from the coffered ceiling add a disco feel, 12 projectors and six infrared cameras hidden in the ceiling’s soffits enliven the walls with changing, interactive images. For instance, guests might see their shadows fan out in psychedelic colors; touch a wall of cascading, matrix-style numbers to start and stop the movement; or chase “goldfish” around the room at a daytime children’s event. A single image can be programmed to cover the entire room, or different ones can be projected simultaneously.
To create this dynamic experience, the designers turned to Mindstorm, a London-based interactive-surface company whose product, iWall, uses embedded cameras to send images to a computer that, through a proprietary algorithm, recognizes hands, bodies, and other shapes. iWall then orchestrates the light to respond accordingly. Kenneth Siber, who cofounded Mindstorm with Thomas Jensen, says, “The principles of what we do are well known, but only recently were the components affordable enough for startup companies to play with them.”
Taylor notes that iWalls are a good fit for the design: “The simple backdrop allows the lighting and the projections to be the focal point.” The iWalls may be programmed for promotions and events, too, while the ambient LEDs change sequentially or are controlled via the light desk.
The socializing and potential revenue-generating opportunities of the iWall concept inspired Allessi to install another Mindstorm brainchild—iBar. This device uses similar tracking cameras and projectors mounted inside the bar’s core to create motion graphics around hands and glasses placed on the surface.
The wave of the future? It appears that the technology—and its seamless integration into Taylor’s design—may be responsible for the growth of the 24 concept. Allessi plans to roll out comparable franchises in other cities where clubs are battling for attention.