21st Century Social Club 86223 SPR Major Project

‘We need not merely new clubs – inventions, insofar as these are not clubs for playing whilst dancing the quadrille, but clubs, designed for brand new, previously-unheard of human relations, new “Social Condensers” of our time.’

  • Ivan Leonidov, Criticism of Constructivism

In the 1920’s, a powerful architectural concept was developed in the Soviet Union. This concept was to inspire the future of human communities by indoctrinating a new and progressive societal existence. The ability to host such a dynamic, layered, and complex blending of diverse activity and programming was essential. A ‘new type’ of architecture was required: the “Social Condenser” – the most internationally recognised ideological archetype produced by the Soviet avant-garde. In its various forms, this new typology encouraged the design and production of public culture through communal housing, worker’s clubs, palaces of labor, administrative buildings and factories.

Today, the Social Condenser’s deterministic properties have been consistently appropriated, depoliticised and re-politicised. Their type and program often translated into contemporary versions of what we call “The Social Club”.

Social Clubs are spectacular visions of a coveted society or culture.

An example, Rem Koolhaas[1], in Delirious New York, describes the Manhattan Downtown Athletic Club as a Social Condenser that intensifies metropolitan life through the hyper-refinement of social interaction. An elite, all-male, members only gymnasium housed in a skyscraper, the Club provided a full spectrum of athletic facilities for body worship[2].

[1] Ironically, Koolhaas’ own definition of the Social Condenser is also the most commonly referenced. The definition appears in Content: Perverted Architecture published in 2004.

[2] Club members were confronted by women on the 17th story garden terrace.

Social Clubs are social factories; they operate as incubators for interaction and transformation – their behavioral influence is prescribed by a set of architectural and social principles. They manifest themselves through an assortment of contrasting spatial languages and juxtaposing activities – from the hard-core to the austere, and even the boring. They are spatial allegories for a real, or imagined, society or culture that exist on the boundary between the everyday, the extraordinary, and the obscure.

A selection of types:

The Racquet & Tennis Club (1890), an organisation dedicated to the games of racquets; The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw (1955), a high-rise public institution, cultural activator, and a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland; City Club (1974), an unbuilt leisure complex designed for Central Milton Kynes; The Ravenite Social Club (early 1970’s), a club used as the headquarters for criminal syndicates in New York; The Bergheim (1998), originally a male-only fetish nightclub turned hedonistic rave with a strict no photo policy; and Ferropolis (1995), or “the city of iron”, an event site constructed from mid-twentieth century machinery.

This studio will begin as a dissection laboratory. We will scrutinise The Social Club to expose the mechanisms that will drive the productive and persuasive powers of our new interiors, new spatial ensembles, new aesthetic maneuvers, and new societal and cultural actions. This ‘new type’ of Social Club will experiment, tease, aggravate, annoy, and mock the “traditional” club. To do this, we will examine the socio-spatial attributes that cause the similarities between, and the deviances from, the prototypical Social Club. Additionally, we will make an enquiry into our common contemporary obsessions (F45, Tinder, World of Warcraft, ASOS, Yoga, The Bachelor, etc). We will flip them inside out and pervert them in an assault on Sydney’s current lock-outs and subsequent cultural crisis to design new territories for shared experience: a distorted antidote.

We will redeploy a variance, “The 21st Century Social Club”, in Sydney… and relentlessly misappropriate it.

Site: The Reader’s Digest Building, Surry Hills