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Caprice and Construction: Considering the lifecycle of nightlife.

July 2010

By David Sokol

Thanks to geography, Antonio Di Oronzo, founder of the six-year-old design firm bluarch, has developed an expertise in nightclubs. When Di Oronzo’s studio was located in the heart of Chelsea nightlife, he offered his services to Jon Bakhshi to design Home and Guest House, and the success of those spots transformed bluarch into clubland’s go-to architect.

Greenhouse, the first LEED-Certified nightclub
Photo © ADO
Greenhouse, the first LEED-Certified nightclub

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“There are certain rules that I personally go by,” Di Oronzo says of his repeat successes in the building type. The DJ booth and bar are integral to setting the vibe of a room, for one thing. And because a club should never seem dormant, Di Oronzo avoids dance floors. “Furnishing the entire space forces people to connect with one another—and a place always looks full, even on a Tuesday night.” 

When Bakhshi tapped him again to design Greenhouse, the first LEED-Certified nightclub, Di Oronzo followed his personal rules as well as those of the U.S. Green Building Council. Bathrooms feature waterless and low-flow appliances, bamboo clads floors and walls to accommodate traffic and dampen noise, and furniture made from FSC-certified wood stretches from one end of the interior to the other, including the space that other architects would have designated as a dance floor.

Bluarch melded sustainability to a big idea too. Di Oronzo remarks, “We always start with a conceptual framework.” And, i n this case, because Greenhouse is “a windowless place with nothing natural about it,” Di Oronzo found a more abstract way to reference Mother Nature: The ducts and other workings of highly efficient HVAC systems are hidden behind rows of dots that cover the walls and ceiling according to fractal equations. These plywood discs are either covered in vinyl, sprout artificial boxwood, or include one of the 2,500 0.8-watt LEDs that DJs may synchronize to their beats.

“Nothing is forever” is another rule of nightclubs, as they must withstand incredible abuse. “That’s always a balancing act,” Di Oronzo says, adding that the Greenhouse interior actually encourages hard knocks. “We designed banquettes with platforms in the back so people can sit on top and put their feet on the seats. In some cases that means using cheaper furniture; and in others, clients prefer to put a durable surface underneath the upholstery so that the banquettes are switched out every year instead of semiannually.”

Venues themselves can’t expect to have long lifespans. As new clubs open and tastes change, Greenhouse will certainly close its doors someday. And Di Oronzo kept that rule in mind, too. By avoiding glues and installing all components mechanically, bluarch not only minimized VOCs but also guaranteed easier dismantling. Remove a nail and artificial boxwood and plywood disc will detach from each other and from the wall; pull out staples from the banquettes and all layers undone; take apart Plexiglass pile from crystal sphere and the ceiling’s shiny pendants are no longer. “It simply requires a hammer and some physical strength,” Di Oronzo says.  

The designer admits that he did not create a protocol for this inevitable D-Day, but he trusts Bakhshi to dismantle Greenhouse with the kind of care required to reuse and recycle its many parts. Although “it was simply marketing” that inspired the client to open Greenhouse in the first place, Bakhshi has done a remarkable job of sticking to sustainability. “All the recycling programs are still in place, the cleaning products are verifiable, even the uniforms come from Edun [the sustainable clothing line cofounded by Ali Hewson and Bono]. Everything is kosher.” The evidence points to a gentle last call. 

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