Avant Garde Design

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Feb 19

For the sheer joy of it…

I wasn’t sure if I should post this here; it is on my tumblr blog (https://profbruce.tumblr.com/archive), which allows me a bit more flexibility in terms of what is appropriate to post (or not).

However, after consulting with my chief marketing officer, he gave me the green light as long as I tell you, dear reader, it is NSFO, not suitable for office.

The reason I am posting it, is I want the people I work with to challenge themselves to do better, to do more with design. Here’s the post:

The Sheer Joy of It

If you haven’t seen the jazz club dance scene from episode 2 of season 1 of Babylon Berlin yet, you are missing something special.

This performance art (the tune is sung by the incomparable Severija Janušauskaitėm at the extraordinarily-recreated 1929 Moka Efti club) took four days to film. I can’t even imagine the number of hours it took to do post-film editing.

Watching the tiny, perfect Liv Lisa Fries dance with her two young suitors (spoiler alert–one of whom is doomed) is blissful and should remind everyone what it’s like to, even for a few minutes, belong to a tribe where you feel totally accepted.

#NSFO (video not safe for work)

[English lyrics–see postscript 2 below]

The other reason I put this here is to look at the impact of design on the human experience.

Human beings are often motivated (after satisfying basic needs like hunger and shelter) by greed, lust, envy, laziness, anger, and pride. Your basic seven deadly sins (my list is six since I mentioned hunger earlier and added shelter as well.)

In addition, people may exhibit positive traits like benevolence, generosity, creativity, sharing, caring, love, trust, charity, sincerity, honesty, loyalty, compassion, understanding, truthfulness, joy, thoughtfulness, consideration, kindness, broad-mindedness, honorableness, humorous, warmth, appreciation, gentleness, friendliness, reliability, tactfulness, brilliance, companionship, originality, cleanliness, respectfulness, efficiency, sportsmanship, punctuality, accuracy, romantic, adventurous, fashionableness, hope and awe. Plus many more. See, for example, an exhaustive list at, https://www.compatibilitycode.com/book-resources/personal-qualities-list/.

Great design often reflects some skillful combination of elements that appeals to both the darker side of humanity (that frisson which comes from treading close to but not crossing over to the dark side) and its lighter shades.

Why do people flock to workout clubs? Sure, it’s to improve their overall health and fitness but it’s also to look good–so they can get a better job, garner more resources, find a more attractive mate, and make friends envious.

Where would you rather work out? In a standard gym like this:


Or in Moka Efti (more from Babylon Berlin):


Here’s the real club, an art deco masterpiece:


I mean where do you think you will feel more inspired, more part of a team, a place where you will want to hang out more?

My youngest daughter, Jessica, said it better, “Dad, what you need in your (home) workout space is a gymspo.”

If you don’t know what a gymspo is, well, here’s an example:


You put pics like this up in your gym, trust me, it’ll provide extra motivation.

So, whether you are designing a new social club, a restaurant, an Airbnb apartment, a tech office, a health club, a store, a conference room, a hotel, a glamping site, a college… whatever, bring the “wowza” factor, ok? Put up large decals/murals/canvas images that amaze and delight, alright?

You create ambiance and shape mood by giving thought to:





-lighting scenes





-staff uniforms/costuming


-sponsor messages and activation


-heating and cooling

-history and storytelling

and about a hundred other things.

And please don’t forget to make the outside of your building reflect what is going on inside–bring the inside, out…

You can get a sense of how important design is in the construction of London-style private clubs by reading this Bloomberg Businessweek article from January 29th 2018.

I found this particularly interesting: “Its modern spin on the members-club concept includes Loulou’s, a Rifat Ozbek-designed nightclub in the basement, which has a dance floor with psychedelic patters beneath a starlit ceiling and a stuffed giraffe’s head that marks the entrance to your own private Oz. And the club’s commitment to privacy and exclusivity makes the dance floor even more freewheeling.”

Mr Ozbek is probably a fan of Volker Kutscher’s novels (on which Babylon Berlin is based) too.

By the way, Kutscher’s detective series (basically the adventures of inspector Gereon Rath from Cologne in Berlin during the brief German democratic interlude between the two world wars–the Weimar Republic) is available (mostly) in English as well as the original German.

These clubs are not cheap. Apparently, Mark Birley told Vanity Fair in 2012 that his club at 5 Hertford street cost $50 million to open. Mind you membership is not cheap either.

Here’s that article:


Prof Bruce

postscript: I promise, last word about the Weimar Republic. I have to wonder if democrats had somehow managed to hang on in Germany amidst the competing factions of the inter-war period when communists, fascists, monarchists (who wanted to reinstall the Kaiser to the German throne) and democrats were vying for power there, what our world might look like today?

I suspect there would have been no World War II. Millions of Germans and tens of millions of others would not have died. I think Germany would have become the light of the world–German would be the lingua franca of commerce, literature and film, widely spoken in Europe and Africa.

Instead of ESL (English as a second language) I postulate that it would be GSL and German culture that dominate around the world.

German science and technology along with their economic prowess would predominate too.

What a shame… how much better it is to conquer the world with brains rather than brawn.

postscript 2: English lyrics for Zu Asche, zu Staub, To ashes, to dust [sourced from, https://lyricstranslate.com/en/zu-asche-zu-staub-ashes-dust.html-0#ixzz57O29yCXQ]:

To ashes, to dust
To ashes, to dust
Taken away from the light
But not just yet
Miracles wait until the end

Ocean of time
Eternal law
To ashes, to dust
To ashes
But not just yet

To ashes, to dust
Taken away from the light
But not just yet
Miracles wait until the end

It is nothing but a dream
The mere chasing of the wind
Who could tell for sure?

The clock on your wall
It is full of sand
Put your hand in mine
And let us be eternal

You make your own choice now
And throw us ‘tween bliss and agony
But I can forgive you

You are so close to death
Yet your glance so clear
See me
I am ready
And looking for immortality

German lyrics:

Zu Asche, zu Staub
dem Licht geraubt
doch noch nicht jetzt
Wunder warten bis zuletzt

Ozean der Zeit
ewiges Gesetz
zu Asche, zu Staub
zu Asche
doch noch nicht jetzt

Zu Asche, zu Staub
dem Licht geraubt
doch noch nicht jetzt
Wunder warten bis zuletzt

Es ist doch nur ein Traum
das bloße Haschen nach dem Wind
Wer weiß es schon genau?

Die Uhr an deiner Wand
sie ist gefüllt mit Sand
leg deine Hand in mein’
und lass uns ewig sein

Du triffst nun deine Wahl
und wirfst uns zwischen Glück und Qual
doch kann ich dir verzeih’n

Du bist dem Tod so nah
und doch dein Blick so klar
erkenne mich
ich bin bereit
und such mir die Unsterblichkeit

Liv Lisa Fries (pronounced “Freeze”), image by Stefan Klüter, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22605882)

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.