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Making the Heineken® Next Level Bar: An interview with the interior architects

Ahead of the official #OpenNextLevel launch, we caught up with the installation architects and spatial designers Leon Erasmus of Leg Studios and Juaan Ferriera of Sonic State who’re hard at working transforming shipping containers into the cool new Next Level Bar that’s set to open its doors in Braamfontein on the 2nd of December. 

Please tell us about the style of the bar and what design features it will include. 

In looking for a Next Level bar concept we were heavily inspired by the Golden Gai district in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The district is made up of aesthetically distinct, narrow and intimate bars – spaces which, because of their physical dimension, encourage conversation between strangers. We wanted to create a space that would inspire networking and creative collaboration between people from very different creative disciplines living in Joburg. We’ve designed the bar to operate as a creative workspace during the day and a place to socialise at night. 

The bar is constructed from 2 interlocking shipping containers that create a slender bar area and intimate gallery space where every day an inspiring up-and-coming creative will be showcasing and discussing their work. These creatives are not just taking their own creative craft to the next level, they’re people who can inspire and help visitors to do the same.

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How has tech been incorporated into making the Next Level Bar live up to its name?

We’ve created the world’s first artificially intelligent playlist – an automated playlist that adapts itself according to the time of day and number of people entering or leaving the bar. We’ve done this to ensure that the mood in the bar is always amplified by the bar itself – that the bar constantly takes its patrons to the next level. 

Please tell us about the challenges of working with the space constraints that this project posed and how you used innovative design to create solutions?

We opted to work with the containers and arrange them in a long narrow format so that the space would reflect the sleek nature of the new Heineken® 330ml Cool Can. As the space is narrow, we have moved all seating and pause areas to the edges of the interior and the bar. This creates a focal point on entry, which draws people into the space towards the rear of the bar. The space is tight, so we have kept all features as 2 dimensional treatments such as wallpaper, laser cut map treatments on the walls etc. In order to fill the space we’ve also referenced the ceilings and floors as important design features, creating an encompassing area. While the bar section is more detail-oriented, the gallery space plays with white and light grey so that all exhibitions installed take precedence.

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What cool materials have been used in the Next Level Bar and how are these inspired by the new 330ml Cool Can?

The space planning was all about replicating the sleek nature of the new 330ml Cool Can. We wanted to create an elongated slender space. We included mirror at the end wall, and directed all floor and ceiling inlays in a linear manner toward the mirror to further elongate an already sleek space. We have also included concealed and exposed LED lighting strips in the walls and ceilings of the containers running the length of the space, drawing further attention to the slender proportions of the interior.

As this is an urban installation, we opted to work with harder finishes like steel and timber. There is a bit of concrete and epoxy-coated steel and glass. The construction is quite a hard typology.  

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What kind of experience have you designed with this space in mind? What can people expect to feel in the Next Level Bar?

We’ve designed the experience in the bar to constantly inspire new forms of creativity and creative collaboration. Every day a different artist from a different discipline will be putting on a live exhibition/performance/showcase to inspire Heineken®’s creative audience to take themselves to the Next Level. The intimate dimensions of the space break down the distance between artist and viewer, and because of this, the intangible opportunity to engage, discuss and collaborate with respected creatives suddenly becomes very tangible for people.

We’ve also designed 2 events where people can experience familiar creative mediums in totally new and inspiring ways – one where we’ve made an art installation “playable”, turning an exhibition into an arcade. For the other, we’ve used brain-mapping technology to devise a way for people to experience music through taste. This will be the first time in the world that music has been made edible.

Both events have been devised to inspire people to push beyond their boundaries and take their creative thinking and creative expression to the Next Level.

In 1 sentence, how does this space #OpenNextLevel?

It’s a unique, intimate space that brings art, design and technology together to inspire Next Level creativity. 

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How does the Next Level Bar respond to it’s location in the hottest area in Jozi?

The exterior of the containers and their combined placement came from our desire to ensure a foley-type construction. The exterior of the bar needed to have presence, be bold, and become a talking point without people having to even enter the space. We included a series of vertical louvres and exploded the Heineken® star into the structure, creating a corner folding feature wall that allows for windows and doors to pierce through it. The doors into the containers have been treated like viewing portals for emitting light and activity outwards. The 2 metre tall can has been placed in relation to these louvres as a central feature to the main entrance, echoing the iconic Nelson Mandela bridge in the background.

Look out for more next level updates coming soon. Follow Heineken® on Instagram and Twitter for more details.

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