For over a decade, the Conga room has been a Los Angeles cultural landmark. The Latin live music and dance venue was LA’s center for Salsa and Rumba. The original location closed in 2006 with the goal of opening a new venue in the new ‘LA Live’ complex in Downtown, Los Angeles. The new home would contain a 16,000 sq ft live music and dance space made up of a multitude of programs-a large dance floor, a stage, multiple VIP areas, a full-service restaurant and three bars, each with their own unique environment. Collaboration with Cuban artist Jorge Pardo and Mexican muralist Sergio Arau, designers of the Papaya Bar and Surface Tattoos, respectively, was essential.

What does a young Jewish guy from the prosperous West Side of Los Angeles know about Latin dance and culture?” That, architect Hagy Belzberg recalls, was the question posed by Brad Gluckstein, who owns the city’s venerable Conga Room with a group that includes Jimmy Smits, Jennifer Lopez, and Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. Quite a bit, it turns out. Belzberg’s immediate counter: “Latin embodies many motifs, styles, and design approaches. The real question is how to contemporize the concept for a Latin club.”

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In order to optimize sound absorption and vibration, the architects continually tweaked the overall look and curvature of the ceiling by focusing on the individual elements. “The ceiling design was always aesthetically driven,” says Andrew Atwood, the project manager for the ceiling millwork, who worked closely with acoustical engineer Martin Newson during the nine-month design process. The diamondshaped panels of the tornado and entry sequence—many of which are unique—morph into “flowers” over the dance floor, where acoustical concerns are greatest. While there are only three panel shapes in this main part of the ceiling, the flowers vary greatly according to the arrangement of their petals, and the angle at which the petals are hung. These variables allow the ceiling’s acoustics to be controlled based on density and porosity. Using the acoustical-simulation application in Ecotect, a building design and environmental analysis tool by Autodesk, they were able to calibrate the different ceiling porosities and locate zones that needed adjusting to enhance acoustics. The quantitative data extracted from Ecotect informed a sophisticated parametric model. Those parameters were plugged into a series of scripts with Excel spreadsheets, and finally into a digital model and fabrication drawings using Rhino. “When we worked on Patina in 2003, we really challenged digital fabrication,” Belzberg recalls. “Since then, we’ve fallen in love with the process.”

Multiple lighting, audiovisual, mechanical, and fire-and life-safety systems, among others, had to be considered during the design process. The final three-dimensional model was able to accept information and constraints from many constituencies, including the acoustical and m/e/p engineers, and LED-lighting specialists, creating a series of feedback loops that were reflected and translated directly to fabrication templates for output to the ceiling’s installers.

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Product Sources

Dupont: Bar Solid Surfacing (Dance Floor). Bisazza: Bar Tile (Dance Floor), Riser Tile (Stairwell). Bocci: Pendant Fixtures (Dance Floor, Lounge). Junckers Hardwood: Paneling (Stairwell). Philips: Led Fixtures (Lobby). Design Your Wall: Custom Wallpaper. Cobsa: Column Tile (Lounge). Through Ylighting: Chandeliers (Restaurant). Crate And Barrel: Stools (Dance Floor). 3form: Back Bar Paneling. Beaufurn: Furniture (Mezzanine). Throughout Dutko Flooring: Flooring. Benjamin Moore & Co.: Paint.

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