Last November, a devastating fire ripped through the wooden walls of the Pavilion, the heart of the Fire Island Pines social scene. The New York Times memorialized it with not one but two glowing pieces, solidifying the Pavilion’s place among the great dance parties of recent New York history. The Fire Island community, for their part, described the Pavilion alternatingly as, “our church,” “a gay utopia,” and simply “an enormous dance party.” Most of all, the Pavilion was a kind of community hub, where celebrities, locals, and awestruck visitors rubbed shoulders at its legendary high tea dances.
Which is why it seemed essential that it be rebuilt.
A coalition of Fire Island businessmen, led by news anchor Andrew Kirtzman, Seth Weissman and FIP Ventures, began planning the Pavilion’s return almost immediately. “I was here 10 days ago and everything looked perfect,” a shocked Kirtzman told the Times after the fire. “The Pines needs a beautiful night club.” Kirtzman and his partners contacted Charles Renfro, of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, to begin the masterplanning of the sprawling harborfront commercial site. As for the architecture, the coalition hired young New York office HWKN.
Amazingly, construction on the Pavilion will begin in June, only six months after it was destroyed. HWKN spent the winter working through proposals with the Kirtzman and Weissman, says lead designer Tim Aarsen. “We have been very lucky to work with our clients, two dedicated Islanders and a dedicated developer,” said Aarsen over email. “They’ve been very open-minded with our proposals and ideas.”
FIP Ventures developer Matthew Blesso explains that the new building “will have the same envelope and mix of uses as its predecessor. But the similarities end there.” HWKN’s design retains the vernacular language of its predecessor: the Pavilion will be clad in the traditional untreated wooden slats found frequently in Fire Island (and throughout the mid-Atlantic coastal states). But the volume itself has been pleated and twisted to better accommodate its range of functions. First, the entire structure has raised on a podium. A massive two-tiered patio has been carved out of the pier-facing facade, offering Pines visitors an outdoor spot to take tea. On the adjacent side of the structure, the building envelope steps back to accommodate retail storefronts and a new “Welcome Bar” (more than 800,000 people visit the Pines every summer). Finally, a faceted web of timber screens in the patio, an effect HWKN principal Matthias Hollwich likens to “a carved, rutted piece of driftwood washed ashore by the sea.”
Some might question the importance of a dance club to a community. But clubs are important spaces in New York, where both real estate and public space are scarce. As one Pines resident told the Times, the Pavilion was a democratic party: “it didn’t matter how old you were… at the Pavilion, that wasn’t even a thought. You felt comfortable.”
The new Pavilion will open next summer, while the masterplanning of the larger Pines complex will continue into 2013.