To understand Building, you first have to step back a little further in time to a club called Area. For the uninitiated, Area was the brainchild of an upstart nightlife entrepreneur named Eric Goode. The club reimagined—exploded even—what a nightclub could be. Every six weeks, a team of artists flipped the club with a new and elaborate theme, like “Red,” “Confinement,” or “Suburbia.” The team was led by a young set designer named Shawn Hausman who would go on to design many of The Standard hotels, thank you very much. Live animals were employed (or deployed, depending on your view), full Hollywood stage sets erected. For the “Disco” theme there was a roped-off VIP area in which no one was allowed. The club was a constantly evolving art project, the embodiment of the wildly imaginative, decadent, over-the-top nightlife of early ‘80s New York.
By 1987, though, Area had closed. The stock market had crashed. A major recession was underway. AIDS was devastating the city. Goode had launched a new venture, a kind of surreal supper club called MK, which was a distinctly more grown-up endeavor from the homespun creativity and chaos of Area. Housed in a four-story neoclassical bank building, MK featured reproduction French antiques, aquariums, stuffed Dobermans, a library, a grand parlor bedroom with an open bath, framed 19th-century pornography, and an underground bank-vault-cum-dance-floor.
To achieve this dramatic shift in tone, Goode tapped an ascendant young Argentine architect named Carlos Almada. To run the club, he brought along his most trusted Area alums, including Howard Schaffer, a jaded former film student who became Area's general manager when he showed up for a job as a ticket taker.
Around the same time (1988/89), two guys—Patrick Moxey and Chuck Crook—had started throwing a series of roving parties in makeshift spaces around Manhattan. Once a week, they took over a large downtown space, charged five dollars, and a hip hop or house music DJ performed. The parties attracted a cross-section of the downtown scene—artists, fashion designers, A&R people, photographers, kids who bridged the divides—exactly the kinds of people that made Area one of the centers of downtown life.
Almada, riding a wave of success, was looking for a new venture, and he decided that Payday (as the warehouse parties were known) was it. He found the Con Ed station. He raised funds from investors. He renovated the building to the tune of a million dollars. Unlike MK, he preserved (and emphasized) the raw feel of the space. A review from the time reads:
“After the retro decadence of the booming, corrupt, and ostentatious 1980s, this new decade demands something a little less frivolous; and so onto the scene comes Building…a dance club that occupies a former electrical substation on a non-descript lower midtown block. The designer is Carlos Almada, a transplanted Argentine architect, and this is his take on the 90s: 'A hot club represents the mood of a moment. There is a new generation, with new values. This generation is about producing things, rather than showing off. You don’t do Louis XV in hard times, and so this space is about basic elements, and raw design.'” –Interiors, 1990
Building merged elements of Area and MK with the roving hip hop parties of Crook and Moxey. Each night, Thursday through Saturday, a different resident DJ would hold forth. There was an open mic, and MCs would perform. The roster of talent would become a who's-who of the first real golden age of hip hop: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Black Sheep, Kid Capri, and Clark Kent.
Today, Howard Schaffer works for The Standard as the “Vice President of Exceptional Talent.” We recently sat down with him to talk about Building and to look back at an era in his life that he remembers fondly. His reminiscences are accompanied by those of Patrick Moxey, one of Building's partners, who went on to found the international dance music juggernaut Ultra Music. Lastly, we caught up with DJ Stretch Armstrong, of the legendary Stretch and Bobbito Show on WKCR, who was 19 years old when Building began and was in clubs nearly every night looking to make a name for himself.