Power from the People

The unfavorable comparison of ill-treated patrons to cattle in over-packed, less-than-atmospheric nightclubs could give way in other venues to a much more positive metaphor of guests as hamsters in a wheel — positive, that is, for green-conscious operators. Don't worry; the guests have no idea they're hamsters. While they enjoy the figurative electricity of a great time, they're generating literal electricity with every step.

While each operator really must consider his or her specific venue's needs to determine the appropriate layout and building materials for a dance floor, the green movement has brought new choices to the fore with advancements in technology and materials. For instance, bamboo may prove a good choice for those club owners looking to be a little more eco-conscious. It has the same classic appearance of wood and can be sanded and refinished like wood, but because bamboo is an aggressive plant, it can be regrown quickly once harvested. But perhaps the most interesting movement in dance floor construction is piezoelectricity.

Can Your Dance Floor Pay Your Light Bill?

Piezoelectricity is the electricity produced by mechanical pressure on certain crystals placed just beneath a flooring surface. When traffic moves over them, the crystals produce electricity. Early studies of piezoelectricity focused on its use in urban sidewalks and airports, but two clubs in Europe — Watt in Amsterdam and Bar Surya in London — experimented with generating electricity from a crowded dance floor and still use the technology.

Piezoelectricity also has caught the attention of the owners of Temple nightclub in San Francisco, who are working with Elizabeth Redmond in Chicago to become the first venue to incorporate her Powerleap flooring (www.powerleap.net) into dance floor design.

"Basically, it started as a design thesis while I was at the University of Michigan," Redmond explains. "I was researching ways to generate energy from the human body. Then I came up with the flooring system, which really offers the most opportunity for communal reclamation of energy. The technology behind my prototype is piezoelectricity, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon."

Redmond's prototype is the first in the United States and is in its second stage of development. "It could even work for a restaurant with a lot of traffic," she says. "You can use energy to power lighting or more large-scale systems such as heating and cooling."

Uncertainty remains, however, about just how much power piezoelectricity can collect from guests dancing a few hours a night. Redmond says she needs success in the second prototype phase before installing a system at Temple. Watt and Bar Surya in Europe were unavailable for comment, but Redmond considers it unlikely that a piezoelectric system there could generate enough electricity to do more than power some lighting or air-conditioning for more than part of a day — unless patrons dance all day long. Still, Temple's management is excited about the technology's potential.

"We are definitely pursuing innovative technologies," says the club's director of sustainability Mike Zuckerman. "While we haven't implemented the Powerleap flooring yet, there is something really special about the people generating electricity by simply dancing."

And while its power-producing potential is still in development, Redmond says, "The beauty of the technology is that the product can be housed in any medium, so if someone wanted a wooden floor, they could have one."

Getting Personal

One operator tapping into the different energy levels of various clienteles when designing dance floors is industry veteran Moe Ghavi, who has owned California venues Café Panini in Corona del Mar, Mosun Sushi and Club M in Laguna Beach and Ten Restaurant and Tentation Lounge in Newport Beach. Recently Ghavi opened his latest restaurant and lounge, Code, in Newport Beach and tailored the venue to meet patrons' needs.

"When it comes to cities like Newport Beach, people want a dance floor," Ghavi says. What he gives his patrons this time around incorporates layout lessons learned about flooring materials at this other clubs, while staying in line with the vibe he wanted for Code. Instead of concrete or epoxy, Ghavi's floor is an exotic African wood that provides a chic appearance, a durable, re-sandable surface and a little more cushion.

And he met his layout challenges by putting the main, 450-square-foot dance floor in the center of the 9,000-square-foot venue, with personal dance floors in the VIP bottle service areas.

"I designed Code with a lot of VIP areas," Ghavi explains. "I have noticed that the last thing beautiful women want to do is dance in the middle of some dance floor where they are lost in a mass of people.

"So, in my VIP areas, I created personal dance floors. Girls love to dance on something elevated where they are not going to be mauled by a bunch of strangers around them."

Ghavi, with the help of designer Kenith Ussenko, implemented another simple but crucial design element that he says adds to the enjoyment of both his restaurant patrons and his dance-hungry crowd.

"The main dance floor is a few feet below the main floor," Ghavi says. "It's sunken so that everyone eating has a sightline over the crowd dancing in the middle. It's a very cool layout, and I would definitely do it again if I opened another place."

Whether energizing your venue or the crowd, strategic dance floor design pleases guests and the bottom line. It's just a matter of building revenue from the floor up.

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