The nightclub is one of the most important design spaces in contemporary culture. Since the 1960s, nightclubs have been epicentres of pop culture, distinct spaces of nocturnal leisure providing architects and designers all over the world with opportunities and inspiration. »Night Fever. Designing Club Culture 1960 – Today« offers the first large-scale examination of the relationship between club culture and design, from past to present. The exhibition presents nightclubs as spaces that merge architecture and interior design with sound, light, fashion, graphics, and visual effects to create a modern Gesamtkunstwerk. Examples range from Italian clubs of the 1960s created by the protagonists of Radical Design to the legendary Studio 54 where Andy Warhol was a regular, from the Palladium in New York designed by Arata Isozaki to more recent concepts by the OMA architecture studio for the Ministry of Sound in London. The exhibits on display range from films and vintage photographs to posters, flyers, and fashion, but also include contemporary works by photographers and artists such as Mark Leckey, Chen Wei, and Musa N. Nxumalo. A spatial installation with music and light effects takes visitors on a fascinating journey through a world of glamour and subcultures – always in search of the night that never ends.
»Night Fever« opens with the 1960s, exploring the emergence of nightclubs as spaces for experimentation with interior design, new media, and alternative lifestyles. The Electric Circus (1967) in New York, for example, was designed as a countercultural venue by architect Charles Forberg while renowned graphic designers Chermayeff & Geismar created its distinctive logo and font. Its multidisciplinary approach influenced many clubs in Europe, including Space Electronic (1969) in Florence. Designed by the collective Gruppo 9999, this was one of several nightclubs associated with Italy’s Radical Design avant-garde.
The same goes for Piper in Turin (1966), a club designed by Giorgio Ceretti, Pietro Derossi, and Riccardo Rosso as a multifunctional space with a modular interior suitable for concerts, happenings, and experimental theatre as well as dancing. Gruppo UFO’s Bamba Issa (1969), a beach club in Forte dei Marmi, was another highly histrionic venue, its themed interior completely overhauled for every summer of its three years of existence.
With the rise of disco in the 1970s, club culture gained a new momentum. Dance music developed into a genre of its own and the dance floor emerged as a stage for individual and collective performance, with fashion designers such as Halston and Stephen Burrows providing the perfect outfits to perform and shine. New York’s Studio 54, founded by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell in 1977 and designed by Scott Bromley and Ron Doud, soon became a celebrity favourite. Only two years later, the movie »Saturday Night Fever« marked the apex of Disco’s commercialisation, which in turn sparked a backlash with homophobic and racist overtones that peaked at the Disco Demolition Night staged at a baseball stadium in Chicago.
Around the same time, places in New York’s thriving nightlife like the Mudd Club (1978) and Area (1983) offered artists new spaces to merge the club scene and the arts and launched the careers of artists like Keith Haring und Jean Michel Basquiat. In early 1980s London, meanwhile, clubs like The Blitz and Taboo brought forth the New Romantic music and fashion movement, with wild child Vivienne Westwood a frequent guest at Michael and Gerlinde Costiff’s »Kinky Gerlinky« clubnight. But it was in Manchester that architect and designer Ben Kelly created the post-industrial cathedral of rave, Club Fac 51 Haçienda (1982), from where Acid House conquered the UK.
House and Techno were arguably the last great dance music movements to define a generation of clubs and ravers. They reached Berlin in the early 1990s just after the fall of the wall, when disused and derelict spaces became available for clubs like Tresor (1991); more than a decade later, the notorious Berghain (2004) was established in a former heating plant, demonstrating yet again how a vibrant club scene can flourish in the cracks of the urban fabric, on empty lots and in vacant buildings.
Developments have become ever more complex since the early 2000s. On the one hand, club culture is thriving and evolving as it is adopted by global brands and music festivals; on the other, many nightclubs have been pushed out of the city or survive merely as sad historical monuments and modern ruins of a hedonistic past. At the same time, a new generation of architects is addressing the nightclub typology. The architectural firm OMA, founded by Rem Koolhaas, has developed a proposal for a twenty-first-century Ministry of Sound for London, while Detroit-based designers Akoaki have created a mobile DJ booth called »Mothership« to promote their hometown’s rich club heritage.
Based on extensive research and featuring many exhibits never before displayed in a museum, »Night Fever« brings together a wide range of material, from furniture to graphic design, architectural models to art, film and photography to fashion. The exhibition takes visitors through a fascinating nocturnal world that provides a vital contrast to the rules and routines of our everyday life.
While the exhibition basically follows a chronological concept, a music and light installation created specially by exhibition designer Konstantin Grcic and lighting designer Matthias Singer offers visitors the opportunity to experience all the many facets of nightclub design, from visual effects to sounds and sensations. A display of record covers, ranging from Peter Saville’s designs for Factory Records to Grace Jones’s album cover »Nightclubbing«, underlines the significant relationship between music and design in club culture. The multidisciplinary exhibition reveals the nightclub as much more than a dance bar or a music venue; it is an immersive environment for intense experiences.
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