DIANA MOSHER, Allied ASID,
is a New York-based interior designer
and media consultant. She also is
the 2017-2019 communications
director for the ASID New York
A mass shooting is defined as four or more people
shot in one incident, not including the shooter.
It’s horrifying to know that there is a mass shooting
in the United States nine out of every 10 days,
according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
The Lexington, Kentucky-based nonprofit was
founded in 2013 by former computer analyst
Mark Bryant. These tragedies are happening more
frequently, but, as reported in Mother Jones,
“US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018 Data From
Mother Jones’ Investigation,” they are not
a new phenomenon.
In June 1984, six patrons were killed when a man
opened fire at an upscale Dallas nightclub after
a woman rejected his advances. Thirty-two years
later, in June 2016, 49 were killed when Omar
Mateen attacked the Pulse Orlando nightclub
in Florida. Sometimes, the unthinkable happens
outdoors. At least 58 people were killed and more
than 515 injured after a gunman on the 32nd floor
of the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Resort and
Casino opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest
Festival across the street.
As the debate continues about why no other
developed nation comes close to the rate of
U.S. gun violence, designers, facilities managers,
and security experts are tasked with creating
safe spaces. Can design help prevent a suicide
bombing like the one that killed 22 at an Ariana
Grande concert in Manchester, England?
“We talk about egress and how do we get people
out—also about situational awareness and the
importance of exit signage,” says George Kelly
of Kelly Architects. Whether it’s a shooter, an
earthquake, or a fire, people need to be able to
escape the premises quickly. In 1972, 37 people lost
their lives and 54 more were injured when a fire
was set at the Blue Bird Cafe, a nightlife complex
in Montreal. Reports from survivors were that the
primary fire escape routes were blocked by flames
and patrons were left with no options but to jump
from a second story window onto parked cars or
cram onto a fire escape whose railing broke under
the pressure of overcapacity. Today, designers say,
when designing back patios or second floors,
the gates have to lead all the way down and out,
and then across the street.
A fire department can come in and shut down
a nightclub because 2,000 people are all in the
lobby on the main floor; 500 of those individuals
are supposed to be upstairs on the patio and in the
second-floor bar. Kelly advises that you have to
keep patrons moving, and keep the flow happening.
Aisles and doors must be clear. He also notes that,
if the aisle is the best view, then the design isn’t
good. You might need to move that aisle somewhere
else so people don’t want to linger there.
At the onset of any project, the Telesco Construction
team identifies and addresses potentially risky
structural elements and ensures a safe environment
free from tripping hazards that would prevent
safe egress from the facility. Local codes provide
a good guideline in terms of required pathways,
egress lighting, fire alarms, fire sprinklers, and
how to alert patrons of an incident requiring their
attention or evacuation.
Nightclub safety also is tied to the operations team
and to having an effective but friendly staff in place.
The best security plans enable the team to have eyes
on everything without intimidating the patrons who
are able to move easily throughout the facility.
“At Rebel, we created a space for lovers to
gather—but with all safety measures met in case
of evacuation needs,” says Alessandro Munge
of Studio Munge. Safety measures also include
elevated railings and strategic banquette placement
to prevent a different kind of tragedy: making
sure potentially inebriated dancers will never fall
off the balconies.
Such calculated design decisions point to one of
the most important paradoxes of safety in club
design: invisibility coupled with ease-of-use.
Patrons must be able to easily benefit from yet
not be overwhelmed by the safety elements built
into a club’s layout and overall design. After all,
they aren’t there for a formal lesson in egress,
they’re there to forget their cares and dance the
night—or day—away. The safety is quietly and
efficiently built in.
Keeping It Chill
At The Sayers Club, another LA nightclub designed by Kelly Architects,
there’s no dancing; instead, the concept was to recreate the intimate feeling
of watching musicians from the VIP lounge during a recording session. Kelly
designed the space around the band in the middle of the room, surrounded
by sofas and tables like a living room.
“Whether it’s a venue for 100 or 1,000 people, we design for maximum
capacity. They’re not tripping over each other; they’re not getting their
phones out because they can’t see their drink—and there’s no line at the
bathroom,” explains Kelly. There’s also no screaming at the bartender,
because the bartender is capable of cranking out seven to 10 drinks.
According to Kelly a properly designed bar is configured to enable the
bartender to put a drink out every 45 seconds to a minute-and-a-half.
“It’s all about the details,” he adds. Materials and finishes need to stay
looking fresh and clean. “The demise of a lot of nightclubs is after the first
couple of years when the furniture and fabrics become torn or grimy.
All you get then are your ‘lower expectation’ crowds. People who pay less,
drink more, and tear up the place.”
The concept at
The Sayers Club
was to recreate the
of a VIP lounge during
a recording session.
(Image: Ryan Forbes)