Night Fever

Designing Club Culture
1960 – Today

Nightclubs and discothèques are hotbeds of contemporary culture. Throughout the twentieth century, they have been centres of the avant-garde that question the established codes of social life and experiment with different realities. They merge interior and furniture design, graphics, and art with sound, light, and special effects to create a modern Gesamtkunstwerk. »Night Fever. Designing Club Culture 1960 – Today« examines the history of the nightclub, with examples ranging from Italian nightclubs of the 1960s that were created by members of the Radical Design group to Ian Schrager's legendary Studio 54 in New York (1977 – 1980), Philippe Starck’s Les Bains Douches in Paris (1978), or the more recent Double Club in London, conceived by German artist Carsten Holler for the Prada Foundation. Featuring films and vintage photographs, posters and fashion, the exhibition also comprises a number of light interiors and sound installations that will take the visitor on a fascinating journey through a world of glamour, subculture, and the search for 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 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, The 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 II for London, while Detroit-based designers Akoaki have created a mobile DJ booth called » The 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.
An exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum and ADAM Brussels Design Museum.

600 – 1,000 m² / 6,000 – 10,000 sq ft

Jochen Eisenbrand, Catharine Rossi, Katarina Serulus

Detailed information

Exhibition tour
17.03.2018 – 09.09.2018, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
20.11.2018 – 05.05.2019, ADAM Brussels Design Museum, Belgium
07.06.2019 – 06.10.2019, Centro Pecci, Prato, Italy
23.01.2020 – 27.09.2020, Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen, Denmark 
31.10.2020 – 14.02.2021, V&A Dundee, Scotland
26.11.2022 – 26.02.2023, HOTA Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Surfers Paradise, Australia

For further information please contact


Diskothek Flash Back, Borgo San Dalmazzo, ca. 1972. Gestaltung: Studio65. © Paolo Mussat Sartor
Volker Hinz, Grace Jones zum „Confinement“ (Haft) Thema, Area, New York, 1984. © Volker Hinz
Hasse Persson, Calvin Klein Party, 1978. © Hasse Persson
Nachtclub Les Bains Douches, Paris, 1990er Jahre. Gestaltung: Philippe Starck. © Foc Kan
Gianni Arnaudo, Stuhl Aliko für das Flash Back, Borgo San Dalmazzo, 1972, Gufram. © Andreas Sütterlin / Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Gianni Arnaudo
Akoaki, mobile DJ-Kanzel, The Mothership,  Detroit, 2014.  © Akoaki
#smartmobiledisco Photo: Wilma Leskowitsch and Fabian Fiechter