Virgin Atlantic Airways today unveiled the first phase of its new £11m flagship business class lounge, the Clubhouse at Heathrow airport. The spectacular 2,500 square metre environment has been designed by London based architectural practice Softroom along with the Virgin Atlantic design team, who previously worked with Virgin Atlantic on the award-winning Upper Class Suite onboard its aircraft.
Virgin Atlantic has taken the space adjacent to its existing Clubhouse at Heathrow - more than doubling the available space, to make it the largest of its kind at the airport. The ambition was established early on that the finished environment should be seen as a single flowing ‘landscape’. Rather than divide the volume up into separate rooms, the space is kept as open as possible, to maximise the Clubhouse’s grand sense of scale. Arranged with a series of ‘landmarks’ and ‘vistas’, the layout encourages passengers to stroll and explore their surroundings, echoing the patterns of circulation and activity of a diverse city like London and also of the movement on the ground and in the skies around Heathrow.
The busier, more social activities like the bar and dining areas animate the main space of the Clubhouse. They are arranged over two sculpted levels picked out by a change in floor finish. The determination to offer a level of service akin to a private members club such as Soho House, necessitates support from excellent back-of-house facilities.
Overhead in the main space, a unique sweeping ceiling recalls an expanse of sky, raked by gently drifting clouds. Its undulating geometry, echoed in the layout of the floor, weaves across the space and unites the room along its remarkable length. The plasterwork is formed into a repeating sequence of tiered coffers, carved away from the building’s structure behind, in order to exploit the full height of the space. The dramatic design of the ceiling was made possible by relocating the air-conditioning to low level, thereby avoiding the oppressive low slung grid of tiles and grilles normally found in airport environments and giving the Clubhouse an entirely original character.
Colour-changing lighting, concealed behind the different levels of coving in the ceiling, adapts the mood of the clubhouse throughout the day. It blends from a warm daytime glow to a dusky sunset, to a more intimate feeling at night.
The Ultimate Pre-Flight Passenger Experience
The Grand Stair
In contrast to the commotion of the main public areas of Terminal 3, the entrance hall of the Clubhouse is a dramatic, alluring, double-height space, toplit by day, sparkling by night. A grand, wishbone-shaped stair drops down beneath a huge gravity-defying ring-shaped skylight and hovers above a slick-like black polished granite plinth. The staircase is finished in Rosso Levanto marble with linen-finished stainless steel cladding and has a handrail wrapped in Bill Amberg saddle leather. Suspended beneath the skylight, a crystal light sculpture, “Stillness at the Speed of Light” (a collaboration between artist Chris Levine, Softroom, and VAA design department), entices passengers upwards like a ray of light through a break in the clouds.
Passengers are greeted at the head of the stairs in the lobby with richly upholstered lounge seating and lined with a customised hand crafted wallpaper from Cole and Son. Luggage is deposited in a cloakroom with a manned shoe shine facility before entering in the main body of the Clubhouse.
The Clubhouse opens out at the point of arrival into a ‘Piazza’ - a raised viewpoint overlooking the whole space longer even than the jumbo jets which can be seen parked up on the stands beyond. Looking across the panorama, you are given a range of choices, picked out by ‘landmarks’ each with their own distinct character, which act as focal points. Further help is on hand at the leather padded concierge desk in front of a soothing image of the airspace above the clouds.
The Bar And Sunken Lounge
Straight ahead from the main entrance, the lively bar area is at the heart of Clubhouse. The bar itself is 14 metres long formed as a white Durat ‘hull’ with a cantilevered prow and black granite base, the bar has a backlit marble counter where passengers can take a seat around the bar and sample a new range of classic drinks and champagne cocktails.
Surrounding the bar, distinctive custom-made furniture is cut into the change in level of the floor to create the ‘Sunken Lounge’. These horseshoe-shaped enclosures are built up out of the same American black walnut timber as the upper floor, stack-bonded and sculpted into an original form. Let into this sinuous, polished shell are generously proportioned, leather upholstered sofas. Centre armrests in the sofas flip open to provide power and data points for laptops, while ‘Tod’ side tables designed by Todd Bracher can be brought up for impromptu dining.
A further bank of seating frames the open arena in front of the bar, where passengers can sink into classic cream leather Eames ‘Lounge Chairs’ or brightly upholstered ‘Oscar’ chairs by Pearson Lloyd - who also created the brand new ‘Turtle’ barstools and dining chairs.
Behind the bar, a dramatically angled, tinted glass screen runs along the length of the Clubhouse. The raked, laminated glazing sandwiches a bright rose-coloured layer of resin which fades to clear half-way down and then to a frosted finish at the base. The slope of the glass picks up the sweeping form of the ceiling in reflection, and gives an intriguing ambiguity to the edge of the room.
The Clubhouse offers a refreshing new light food alternative in the form of the ‘Deli’ area beside the Piazza. Passengers can choose to eat lunch or dinner before their flight by picking from a range of fresh produce on offer at the white marble counter, with daily specials marked up on the blackboard behind. From there, they can take a seat on one of the ‘Bertoia’ stools around the sleek seven metre span of the marble-clad deli table* - complete with herbs planted in a trough down the middle.
The Poolside Lounge
At one edge of the raised half of the lounge, a lazily flowing waterfall drifts down into a mosaic tiled shallow pond. Suspended from the ceiling, transparent acrylic Eero Aanio ‘Bubble’ chairs and Verner Panton ‘Globe’ lights add a playful and inviting edge to the waterside. A flock of ‘Swan’ chairs and deep sofas in shimmering silvers, blues and greys complete the watery theme.
The Salon and Spa
A gentle ramp beside the pool leads past a low slate-clad wall and on towards the Clubhouse’s own ‘Cowshed’-branded Spa and Salon. Behind the waterfall the ‘Groom Pods’ - a curvaceous block covered in shiny black glass mosaics, housing four self-contained grooming bays where the passengers can now treat themselves to a selection of exclusive Cowgroom treatments including a relaxing facial, shoulder massage, manicure, pedicure or wet shave for men. Each pod is equipped with an electronic massage chair and enough space for two therapists to work around. Also enclosed within a separate section of the pod is a St Tropez spray tan booth, for those in need of a pre-travel glow. For the ultimate in relaxation, the spa offers six steam-shower rooms, each of which is lined in colourful glass tiles. Finally, the spa houses a sauna, loungers arranged against an autumnal glass wall, and - for the ultimate in hedonistic health - a circular hydropool.
A single step up from the bar floor and beyond the glass screen, is the ‘Gallery’, a peaceful oasis, with the feeling of an arcaded conservatory. The finishing is light and natural, with oak flooring, benches and panelling on the wall. Along the 40 metre length, planters establish a rhythm to the space. The furniture is a mix of pale fabric and leather sofas, classic pieces such as the Bertoia ‘Bird’ chairs, as well as fun items like the cane globe hanging chairs with apple-green leather pads.
Half of the gallery is earmarked as a ‘Fumoir’ for smokers, with effective but discrete air-conditioning. Stepping back through the glass wall into the main space, a patch of vivid blue Pierre Paulin ‘Mushroom - model no. 560’ and ‘Ribbon - model no. 582’ chairs create a casual transition out of the main bar and Sunken Lounge.