HKS is Helping Reimagine the Social Club Experience on Both Sides of the Pond

By
  • Luciano Mazza
  • Arianna Leopard

From Washington D.C. to San Francisco to London, new clubs are starting and thriving all over the world. Whether a social club or co-working spaces, these venues have always emphasized “community” — wielding the word in an ambiguous way that hints at an informal camaraderie.

But regardless of their various focuses, their value lies in being together, offline, and to that end they share a common theme: providing a sense of identity and meaning as technology has made us globally more connected, but locally more isolated.

Many of these clubs, such as the historic The Bohemian Club or the more recent Radiant, both in San Francisco, define a lifestyle brand while challenging the norms. People are in pursuit of creative freedom and innovative partnerships. In addition, these architecturally significant spaces are equal parts secluded and connected — catering to the shifting appetites of the modern discerning consumer.

Unlike the sedate establishments of the traditional clubs, most of which are controlled by their members, these modern clubs are run for profit. These clubs are more accommodating to modern tastes — welcoming female membership, business networking and the monied global elite that increasingly call London home.

London has the highest density of private member’s clubs in the western world (Beijing touts an estimated 4,000 clubs), but few fuse the recreational and wellness needs of the modern-day nomad as handsomely as the HKS-designed South Kensington Club.

Acknowledging a strong foreign demand, their oak-paneled doors are open to anyone who can afford their fees. South Kensington Club is evidence that London’s private clubs are changing. Housed within a 25,000 sq ft Georgian music hall, the grand property inhabits the former site of the popular Harrington Club. In addition to the traditional club restaurant and bar offering, it is the concept’s holistic approach that makes it such an attractive proposition — an ode to exploration and wellness, where respite merges health and hedonism.

With a carefully curated fusion of top techniques from all corners of the globe, including the Russian Banya, Turkish hammam, and saltwater Watsu pool and the Tea Library room that evokes the vibe of an Oriental-style, Parisian parlor, SKC is an almost religious experience. These include a luxe mix of lava stones, tropical woods, marble, colorful ceramics, tadelakt walls, and Mediterranean plants that collectively provide a continual link to nature throughout the club’s social areas and spa.

“When I designed my first club, the South Kensington Club in London, the brief indicated as the main target the wealthy Russian community of London. A refuge, a nostalgic, ceremonial place of gathering, transporting the guests back to their motherland,” said HKS architect, Luciano Mazza. “Now the club’s allure has expanded beyond the Russian community, but that’s how it all started. When I was approached to design the h.Club in Los Angeles for the late Paul Allen, the challenge was much more intricated and intriguing at the same time.”

Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, had already envisioned the h.Club in London, a hub for creatives with hotel rooms within the public spaces offered to the members. In 2016, he wanted to expand the concept to L.A., but with a twist in the vision. We discussed design challenges and how to take the “fashionable British snobbery” into the exuberant creative scene of California. The vision goes beyond the mere aesthetics and functionality of the building. The ultimate goal for the Club was to become the new home for the Los Angeles artists and facilitate the flow of creativity, the cultural exchange and give exposure to new, young talents.

South Kensington Club and h.Club envision more than simply providing a workspace or treatment room. The idea is for people to visit for the beauty, the service, the art, the environment and the music so that they can feel better and achieve enjoyment in life.

Yet another type club is forging its way onto the scene. Coworking spaces, which at the top end of the market are barely distinguishable from clubs, are spreading across cities. The booming gig economy is helping spark this growth area.

Approximately 57 million Americans freelanced in 2018, a leap of 4 million from 2014, according to the 5th Annual Report Freelancing in America 2018. People who want more flexibility in their work options and the demands of a global economy are changing the traditional workforce model, with a staggering 73% of millennials going directly into freelancing.

In response to this shift, the provision of co-working spaces, private members and social clubs are converging. Members club Soho House, which has more than 50,000 members worldwide, has developed Soho Works as a concept to provide 16,000 sq ft of working space in East London, with plans to also open in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, WeWork and The Office Group locations are increasingly offering bars, social activities and members clubs.

“How can we inspire with our design, creative to creative, to form the perfect escape where talent could flow free from any inhibition?” says Mazza. “Through this exploratory process, an environment was created where every space .  .  . was relevant, but never obvious. We had this possibility to create a utopian place and make it a reality. We can create an environment to really change cities.”

Luciano Mazza

Luciano Mazza is a Principal and Director of Hospitality at the HKS London office. He draws upon his travels and interest in cultures to design unique contemporary solutions that consider the heritage and context of each site. Originally from Italy, he is a frequent speaker and presenter at hospitality conferences.

Arianna Leopard

Arianna Leopard is Hospitality Business Development Director at HKS. Arianna addresses the needs of her clients by combining in-depth market knowledge and strong client advocacy, backed by her expertise in commercial real estate, marketing and design.