After Fire Island Pines’ gay nightclub, the Pavilion, burned to the ground two years ago, social media lit up with the news, as did immediate speculation on its replacement. On June 21, a new, highly tweetable version by HWKN reopened on the harbor. It’s the first major building to be completed by partners Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner since winning last year’s MoMA PS 1 Young Architect’s Program.
Hollwich used the term “tweetable architecture” to describe the firm’s ethos at a recent book launch for Fire Island Modernist, a monograph about the island’s unsung architect, Horace Gifford. But unlike Gifford, whose generation was badgered by police entrapment, later liberated by Stonewall, and finally decimated by AIDS, Hollwich’s post-ACT-UP generation came of age in the liberated fist-pumping culture of gay mega clubs.
It’s that liberated muscle culture that embodies HWKN’s reinterpretation of the clean-lined utilitarian structure that came before. And while the flow of the interior spaces melds neatly from zone to zone, and the view corridors are quite clever, it remains a building where function follows form.
Hollwich described the two-story form simply as “a box chopped off at a corner and then a diagonal and that’s it.” The composition, which makes a dynamic statement from aboard the ferry entering the harbor, as well an easy read on an iPhone, reveals a few value-engineered details up close.
The facade takes its cues from its angular site by making potent use of triangles throughout, a symbol of gay culture. The lopped off corner of the building’s rectangular framework creates a huge upside-down triangle to greet incoming boats. From there, a series of cedar-clad triangles appear to shore up the structure.
The building’s best details occur whenever its structure is exposed. A hint of the truss network supporting the building juts out from beneath a rear stairway, revealing its laminated beams—a compressed wood with a plywood-like texture. Roughhewn beams also peer from beneath the roofline, under floor plates, and stand as columns. Since the facade’s cedar-veneer beams primarily fulfill decorative duties, they lack structural tension and give the building a steroidal quality.
The programing also celebrates workout culture through a glass-enclosed black box of a gym on the first floor, making iron pumping an integrated part of the facade. But while the physique spectacle animates the building, the gym’s glass walls stop the eye at a critical point where the space should continue to flow.
Next to the gym is the first watering hole on the island. In addition to the bar and the gym, the programming also includes an art gallery/real estate office and a spa along a zigzag facade facing the boardwalk. The building’s alleyway remains utilitarian and drab with rain screen panels and the programming somewhat misses the mark when it comes to serving a growing community of modern families.
The Pavilion is at its best when it’s being what it wants to be, which is a club. And for that the dance floor fulfills its duty to the fullest. The interior employs an accentuated approach to the trapezoidal space, where slatted blond wood wall panels give way to black recesses holding LED lights that transform the space into a prism of light at night. Along one wall, the slats pull back, curtain-like, to allow a triangular bar to punctuate the dance floor. A crystal chandelier hangs above, adding a measure of camp. A retractable skylight will allow the heat to escape. The bar’s angles encourage patrons to check each other out while ordering drinks. Bleacher-like benches bookend the space, reinforcing the cruising dynamic.
The second floor open air bar overlooking the harbor is the club’s strongest space. From behind, the facade beams appear less weighty and the three triangular bars that push into the crowds offer dozens more opportunities to look, wink, and drink. “Yeah there are the hookups,” Hollwich said of the design intention. “But there is also the friendships, and there’s also the business, and there are those casual conversations that change people’s lives and people’s minds.”