Designing a Mega-Club with Josh Held

Hospitality design is all about integrating important trades and requirements. All new venues, especially in Vegas or NYC, must be beautiful and awe inspiring. It must be functional. It must have great sound and great lighting. It must be a safe environment. It must last years despite the nightly endeavors of its partying patrons that wear it out.

I've design over 100 venues and have told staff that our product must stand up to the same pressures of say a subway car yet be cool, fun and be able to sell liquor efficiently. For a designer the rewards are great but the task can be nerve wracking and all consuming.

Josh Held is one of those designers at the top of the game. He recently completed the redo of Marquee NYC and is currently completing LIGHT “the highly anticipated Las Vegas nightlife concept, opening in April 2013.”  In addition, he recently completed renovation of the W Lakeshore in Chicago, Voyeur Nightclub in Los Angeles and Bacchanalia in Singapore. While this column is dedicated to nightclubs and bars, Josh's portfolio also includes hotels, casinos, restaurants, theaters, retail and residential.

With his hectic schedule we wonder how Josh Held found time to speak with Nightclub & Bar.

Nightclub & Bar (NCB): How did you become a hospitality designer and what are the challenges and differences between hospitality design and say residential?

Josh Held: I had the great privilege of growing up in a home surrounded by performing and visual arts.  My sister was involved in theater and my parents, both artists, exposed us to creative influences of every kind.  Hospitality design opens a door to theatricality that other forms of design, such as residential, do not.  Hospitality design is about experiences and emotional, conscious and subconscious response.

NCB: David Rockwell is an icon in design. What did you take away from your experience at Rockwell Group?

Held: Immediately following architecture school, I came to New York City.  After a few years in various design disciplines I was feeling a lack of the design immersion and artistic expression that I was looking for.  Then I read an article about David Rockwell and decided that was where I needed to be.  In the over 10 years that I spent at Rockwell Group, I was fully engrossed in a completely unique and intense education.  I began to understand how emotion really plays a role and weaves itself through every aspect of a project.  The guest needs to feel energized, glamorous, warm, euphoric, curious, anxious, comfortable, sexy…all at the same time, and not be conscious of why.  You have to be aware of who your audience is, how long and if you want them to sit in their seat, what you want them to be doing, and it is different for every project.  It takes a certain type of design to embrace that psychology.

NCB: Your hospitality portfolio is impressive. How important is the ability to interact with big personalities? Are there any words of wisdom you would impart on a up and coming design firm?

Held: The personalities at this level are as big as their projects and working with those personalities is just as important as the design.  These are owners and operators that have a deep understanding and experience within hospitality and its design.  The best word of wisdom I can impart would be to listen…and then be able to interpret, execute, and challenge when appropriate, yet always with conviction.  Begin with a strong conceptual foundation and always check every gesture against it.  It will reinforce the reasoning behind every move you make, to the client, to the guest and to yourself.

NCB: How does a design concept begin? Does it come from the client? How deep is the collaboration between you and client?

Held: There are as many different answers to these questions as there are projects.  Every project brings its own bits of data that you use as the seeds of creativity.  Some clients come with a fully baked concept while some simply have a space and trust that you will develop an appropriate vision.  You extract as much information as you can from the space and its surroundings, from the client, from the potential guests, from previous successes and failures...and then you grow the design.  That is the challenge and the fun of what we do.

NCB: Tell us about the taco joint, Tres Carnes.

Held: The taco joint, Tres Carnes, I am particularly excited about.  It is a concept near and dear to my heart.  I grew up in Texas and Tres Carnes is a marriage of Texas and Mexico, in a way that has not been done before.  The project is a collaboration between Sasha Shor, the executive chef and managing partner, Michael Rodriguez, decorated pitmaster, Michael Sinensky, owner, and myself.   We all have a common love for this food and from that we developed a partnership and concept.  We have used reclaimed railroad ties, corrugated metal and hand crafted fixtures that all speak to the specific concept.

NCB: At Marquee NYC you literally raised the roof and delivered a Vegas style nightclub. What were you tasked to do and is the design a reaction to the highly successful Marquee LV?

Held: We did indeed raise the roof, and I love saying that!  Noah and Jason, the clubs owners, have always been pioneers and set the bar, not copy it, even when it was the bar that they themselves set. What we did not do is try to make a Vegas style club in NYC or even transplant any of the features.  That is not what this one is about.  It is an entirely new Marquee, different from Vegas, Sydney or even the original Marquee.  It needed to be very dance and DJ focused while keeping a New York state of mind.  There are a lot of materials in the space we have never used before and are not part of the vocabularies of any of their other clubs or restaurants.

NCB: The new club for the light group is your largest space so far. Is it exponentially harder to build big?

Held: LIGHT in Las Vegas was definitely more complicated than a typical club, but not because of the size or its location.  It is a partnership with Cirque Du Soleil so the entire concept of ‘nightclub’ is being redefined.  We had to take all of our knowledge of club design and weave through that the complexities of a full-blown Cirque experience.  The technical coordination took over a year and was only possible because of a very talented team of professionals.

NCB: How do you coordinate with other trades like club lighting guys Steve Lieberman/SJ Lighting  and  Dan Agne/Sound Investment.  How does design integrate with these components.

Held: Successful sound and lighting coordination starts at the beginning.  The sooner we can collaborate the more integrated the solution.  Sound and Lighting for clubs like Marquee and LIGHT have a major physical presence and it takes an ongoing collaboration to make these seamless.

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