Virgin’s airline lounges – called ‘clubhouses’ – have a reputation as luxurious but fun places to relax with a drink and a snack before flights. With lounges located all around the world, Virgin is keen to give a little local flavour to every one of them. The refitted Virgin Clubhouse in Terminal 1 at Tokyo’s international Airport at Narita followed this pattern – the brief was that it be one third Virgin, one third Japan, and one third Klein Dytham architecture (KDa).
Aside from this instruction regarding atmosphere, KDa’s functional brief was rather tricky, requiring a design that was as efficient as possible. The brief asked KDa to accommodate more people with the existing floor area, and also to insert toilets so that Virgin customers didn’t need to leave the lounge in search of them.
The design begins outside the door. The airport doesn’t allow signs that project out into the concourse, so KDa conceived a doorway with a cunningly recessed sign that subtly funnels visitors into the space. On the way in, they pass through a sliding glass door etched with a pattern of aircraft – including one red Virgin plane.
The lounge’s main function is to create a comfortable space to relax before a flight, where travellers can sit comfortably, catch up on the news, plug in their laptops, read the paper, or watch TV. KDa provided the space with three distinct spaces – two lounges and a breakfast bar – and a number of different types of furniture for visitors to occupy. These include a long breakfast counter (Virgin’s flights from Narita leave in the morning) complete with facilities for computer plug-in, plush booths, café-style tables, and comfy chairs with wired connections in the armrests. Other facilities include a long counter displaying magazines and newspapers, a ‘snack and grab’ fridge, and a full kitchen run by Virgin staff.
The lounge looks directly out onto the runway, providing dramatic views of arriving and departing aircraft. To create stronger sense of privacy and gently partition the lounge into zones, KDa inserted a series of screens of folded steel fins. The fins are all oriented perpendicular to the window, letting in light and allowing clear views out onto the runway; when viewed obliquely, the fins form subtle dividing screens. One side of the fins have been printed with the image of a bamboo forest. The other side – that viewed as guests leave the space – presents funky anime images produced by legendary Japanese animator Koji Morimoto, best known for his work on Animatrix.
This simple move creates strong contrasts as visitors move through the space - each seating area has a different atmosphere depending on which side of the screens is visible. Explaining these contradictory views – one ‘traditional’, the other ‘futuristic’ - KDa explain that “Japan has a culture of many incongruous ambiguities and we wanted to reflect this within the lounge.”
Along the window overlooking the runway, KDa created a raised deck that both conceals a large perimeter heating unit and allows the interior to flow right up to the extra-tall floor-to-ceiling glazing. This creates an extraordinary feeling of continuity between inside and outside, and gives the entire space a very open and light atmosphere - a seat here among the plants is a great spot for sipping drinks and runway gazing!