A Trove of Club Photography Shows How Nightlife Has Evolved, From Disco to Berghain

"Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960-Today," on view at the Vitra Design Museum, explores the relationship between nightlife and design.

by Erin Schwartz
Apr 4 2018, 8:51pm

In 1967, the architecture department at the University of Florence was abuzz with heady, radical plans for…nightclubs. Professor Leonardo Savioli had offered a course on the design of discos, then called “pipers,” after the first such space, created in Rome by Manilo Cavalli and Francesco and Giancarlo Capolei in 1965. This was the birth of the Italian Radical Design movement, which questioned in one frenzied breath capitalism, the monotony of everyday life, and the separation of ecology from human society. “To be honest, I think the discos were the only places that would have their designs,” Sumitra Upham, co-curator of a 2015 show on Radical Design at the London ICA, told The Guardian.

That we’re not taking club design seriously enough seems like the kind of thing you’d shout a club and get laughed at for, but Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960-Today, a new show at Weil am Rhein’s Vitra Design Museum, makes a convincing argument in its favor. From Space Electronic, the 1969 disco-cum-architecture-school-cum-vegetable-garden designed by Grupo 9999, to Keith Haring’s murals at Area, and the Situationist origins of the Hacienda’s name, there’s surprising crossover between clubs, art, and academia. In a recently-scrapped redesign of London nightclub Ministry of Sound, Rem Koolhaas’s design firm, OMA, proposed that a chunk of the building would move, lifting up or down when the venue was open or shut; clearly, club design radicalism is not dead.

If you can’t get to Germany for the show, a book to accompany the exhibition goes on sale on May 22. Otherwise, put on your silver lamé jumpsuit and scroll through the photos below to vicariously experience nightlife history.

Dance floor at Xenon, New York, 1979. © Bill Bernstein / David Hill Gallery, London
Guests in Conversation on a Sofa, Studio 54, New York, 1979. © Bill Bernstein, David Hill Gallery, London
Discotheque Flash Back, Borgo San Dalmazzo, ca. 1972. Interior Design: Studio65. © Paolo Mussat Sartor
DJ Larry Levan in Paradise Garage, New York, 1979. © Bill Bernstein, David Hill Gallery, London
Palladium, New York, 1985. Architect: Arata Isozaki, mural by Keith Haring. © Timothy Hursley, Garvey|Simon Gallery New York
Trojan, Nichola and Leigh Bowery at Taboo, 1985. © Dave Swindells
Keith Haring, © Volker Hinz
Interior view of Haçienda, Manchester, courtesy of Ben Kelly
Nightclub Les Bains Douches, Paris, 1990. Interior Design: Philippe Starck. © Foc Kan
Chen Wei, In the Waves #1, 2013 © Chen Wei / Courtesy of LEO XU PROJECTS, Shanghai
Despacio Sound System, New Century Hall, Manchester International Festival, July 2013. © Rod Lewis
Musa N. Nxumalo, Wake Up, Kick Ass and Repeat!, photograph from the series 16 Shots, 2017. © Musa N. Nxumalo / Courtesy of SMAC Gallery, Johannesburg
Vitra Design Museum
Studio 54