On April 21st an A330 took off from London to New York with a brand new bar and cabin interior designed by the VW+BS studio in partnership with the Virgin Atlantic Design Team. We had been approached over four years ago by Virgin with a test brief to see what we would do if we had a free hand to redesign one of their planes. We had a lot of fun but we researched very thoroughly the changing trends in travel and hospitality to produce an intelligence report that could form a reference for the client, and to determine how these new ideas could be incorporated on board an aircraft.
The existing product introduced in 2003 remained a market leader but trends in travel were changing and Virgin is determined to be the industry innovator. The brief was very ambitious: to create an exciting and engaging social space for passengers and meet the immense technical requirements of a wide bodied plane with the strictest safety regulations.
The entry point for our thinking was that the bar is positioned at the entry point to the plane. It had to make an immediate impression. After take-off the bar had to become a destination. We wanted to orient the bar within the space to make this impact and to create a genuinely convivial space, that reflected trends happening on the ground with pop-up bars and the new speak easy, while having an aesthetic that was decidedly futuristic and belonged in the sky.
By reorienting the bar so that it is angled to face the entry door allowed us to re-imagine the space to create a variety of different social spaces. You can stand, sit and perch around the bar. The angles provide many different sight lines and vistas. People can mix in twos, or threes or just have a quiet drink alone. The sculptural stools are made from machined aluminium and have a highly polished surface to generate reflections and add to its sense of immateriality.
The wrap around cocoon of the bar provides a seamless skin that contains all of the paraphernalia (oxygen kits, wheel chair storage etc) that is required on a modern aircraft but also works to provide the kit for the front of house: the glasses, the ice buckets and the bottles of spirits that a bar must contain.
The side cabinets for the magazines and spirit bottles are shaped to fit into the area but are cut away at the top for display. The crew side of the bar is open to the passenger and contains all the typical airline catering carts that are usually on display, but here are hidden away behind carefully designed but robust doors with custom recessed handles. The result is that every aspect of the bar is rigorously designed for use, with no superfluous space, including under-counter glass storage for the tumblers and a back – lit angled recess to store the new champagne coupes.
The colour palette is largely neutral: an off-white stone skin for the bar itself and a champagne coloured lacquer finish for the remaining elements. Of course there is a big splash of red – Virgin Atlantic’s colour – for the front of the bar and the same espresso leather found on the cabin seats for the stools and perches. The mood can be greatly enhanced by the RGB lighting effects: different moods and scenes can be created according to the lighting scheme. There are lighting strips within the cocoon skin and cleverly positioned indirect lighting to enhance the sharp silhouettes so that the mood is subtle and sophisticated.
At the same time the seating has been redesigned for a new Upper Class suite with a wider and longer bed. The seat design was carried out by Simon Pengelly’s studio also in partnership with Virgin Atlantic’s own design team.
The result for the passenger is a unique onboard experience, to sip a cocktail at 30000 feet, perched on a stool at the longest bar in the sky in a futuristic space and let the world fly by underneath.
+ Project credits
VW+BS Project Team (in partnership with Virgin Atlantic Design Team)
Gautier Pelegrin – team leader
Li Szu Tan
Bravo Charlie Mike Hotel