“Industrial opulence” is how Caliper Studio and RePop Design, the architectural and design teams behind Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema, describe the one-of-a-kind independent film house. Based in Williamsburg, Nitehawk features two bar areas and three separate theaters, which seat 92, 60 and 28 patrons, respectively, as well as a street-level café and tableside food service inside each theater. Three levels of residential apartments are located above the facility.
Caliper Studio served as the building’s architect prior to Nitehawk owner and executive director Matthew Viragh’s purchase of the structure, according to Caliper principal Stephen Lynch. When the time came to put the Nitehawk project in motion, Viragh paired Caliper with RePop owners Carl Grauer and Russell Boyle (profiled in the December 2011 edition of Interiors & Sources) to create the old-meets-new ambience—hence “industrial opulence,” a concept that all parties viewed as fitting for the Brooklyn venue.
“The main theater has a plush red feel that tends towards the opulence, and some of the other spaces are more raw and tend towards the industrial,” says Lynch. “In the end, the spaces have a lot of personality, largely due to the handpicked items that RePop selected to decorate the spaces. The façade of the building, with its pre-weathered zinc panels and LED-illuminated glass discs, lends a theatrical sense to the façade. Although we did design this before RePop got involved, we feel it works well with the overall concept.”
Caliper reconfigured and fabricated the zinc panel façade and awning, and the rolling seat bases for the 100-year-old Masonic temple chairs in the smallest theater (Theater Three) in its in-house metal fabrication shop.
Designing and building the cinema took 14 months. However, Viragh was a regular RePop customer and had discussed the possibilities of theater design with Grauer and Boyle for almost a year before he asked them to submit a proposal. Nitehawk was the team’s first commercial project, as well as their first time working with an architectural firm.
RePop and Caliper worked closely to blueprint their ideas and ensure that the end result fulfilled Viragh’s vision. “We developed the concept together and discussed everything as the project developed,” says Lynch. “When RePop went on the road looking for elements for the different spaces, they would send in photos and we would talk about how well they would work. Most of our other work emphasizes a certain precision and craft of materials, so this was a bit of a departure, but it was really fun working with RePop, and kind of liberating in some ways being more open to a different point of reference.”
Grauer and Boyle utilized longtime contacts, and visited swap meets and flea markets along the East Coast and into the Midwest to purchase appropriate items that weren’t already in the RePop store. “That’s what we do on a day-to-day level; that’s our skill set,” says Grauer. “What we do went hand-in-hand with this project, and that’s part of the reason we fit into the match.”
“It was a very interesting collaboration,” says Boyle, “and an opportunity to make old things functional and new again. Ultimately, the challenge was to make a new building look like it had been there forever.”
The selections weren’t haphazard. “Whenever we came across a piece, mostly through reclaimed materials, we measured and made sure everything would fit,” says Grauer. “It was much like a puzzle piece, finding things that fit within the spaces.”
The silent film Metropolis and the centuries-old camera obscura were used as reference points for the “industrial opulence” concept, says Boyle, joining the raw industrialism with the “through a pinhole” view, meaning that each room would offer a different experience without creating a specific theme.
The downstairs bar has a dark aesthetic, with reflective surfaces against the reclaimed wood in the bar, tabletops and table bases. The upstairs bar has a reclaimed oak top and reclaimed marquee. The three theaters were designed with different color schemes and concepts as well: blue and gray for Theater Three, beige and gray for Theater Two, and red for Theater One, which was intended to be more surreal and classic with an art deco feel.
Nitehawk Cinema’s combination of past and present clearly resonates with patrons. It represents an opportunity to step away from the impersonal service of big-box, multiplex screenings and instead opt for a unique taste of nostalgia, away from the noise and high-tech bombardment of mobile phones, text messaging, social media and status updates. Nitehawk takes this so seriously, in fact, that they created a pre-show graphic film informing patrons that if anyone is caught texting during the movie, they will be removed from the theater.
Boyle and Grauer agree that there is a need for simplicity and a desire to unplug, which is in keeping with RePop’s motto, “Reclaiming the past to honor the future.” They see Nitehawk as a place where patrons can enjoy a movie, a meal and a sense of relaxation, “rather than always looking at your phone to see what the next best thing is or constantly checking Facebook,” says Grauer. “It’s nice to go somewhere and have that sense of nostalgia that one doesn’t find anymore—to sit back and enjoy the present.”
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