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Ascend

March / April 2008


One of Asia's most fascinating new nightclubs, Ascend in Manila Philippines, held their Grand Opening in late January to a resounding success, perfectly integrating dance club, restaurant and lounge bar.

The concept and realization for Ascend came from the owner / operator Oliver Mendez. With a degree in business management, a professional culinary degree from Dubrulle Culinary in Canada, plus several years of managing restaurants bars and clubs in Manila, under his belt, he felt it was time to start his own place. With all that experience and knowledge behind him, his requirements were very discerning.

After closely looking at various possible locations, he discovered a building that was still under construction on Bonifacio High Street in Global City, a district that has become a new focal point for high-end retail outlets and restaurants adjacent to Makati City, Manila’s main financial and business centre. The building had at first been intended for use as a fitness club and call centre. Realizing the completed structure would have a commanding view of high-rise buildings of Global City and Makati City, and just across the very upscale Fort Strip and Serendra which hosts other fine bars, restaurants, lounges and clubs, Oliver Mendez saw this would be the ideal location for what he had in mind. He then invited close friends and associates to join him in making Ascend a reality. Their mission: “To redefine Manila’s nightlife and take nightclubbing to the next level!”

In broader terms, their concept was to create the ultimate entertainment, event venue and wining, dining and dancing venue - all under one roof. From tiles to bathroom fixtures, furnishings to granite bar tops, they spared no expense in making sure that this venue would be on par with the best dance clubs in the world, an equal to those found in Las Vegas, New York and Ibiza, and at the same time, offering the best high-end dining experience... without the exorbitant fine-dining prices.

The first challenging step taken to achieve this was convincing the principal developers of Bonifacio High Street, Ayala Land Inc, that their plan for of a new super club would really work in that area. They were initially apprehensive about having Ascend located very close to another major dance club. The concern of ‘saturation’ was brought up. Oliver Mendez was adamant that Ascend would be something that would complement the existing businesses in the area. Fortunately, this has been evidenced since Ascend’s opening.

“People are just gravitating to our area of Bonifacio High Street / The Fort Strip, why even go anywhere else?” he declares. On weekends, they start their evening at Ascend with dinner, and basically end the night there with dancing, even extending their stays to early morning coffee and breakfast. He adds that “Ascend has brought something very dynamic, exciting and vibrant to Bonifacio High Street, which previously was just populated with early closing coffee shops and retail stores”.

Once they were able to persuade the developers and get the green light, they proceeded to look for architects and interior designers. They decided on a design contest and about 10 different design companies and individuals came up with various design concepts for Ascend, based on the initial design parameters that Mendez himself developed. The process took two months, but it was very well-worth it. The winning design was from a collaboration of very young, talented designers and architects: Flancia & Associates and Design Hirayama Quesada.

Next was the critically important sound system. Mendez travelled to Singapore, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and Jakarta, to check out the clubs there, taking detailed notes on the most significant facets of each venue that he visited. He was already familiar with many of the world’s finest audio systems because his brother-in-law in Vancouver runs a sound & light rental company. But it was actually world renowned DJ Judge Jules who mentioned (and highly recommended) Funktion One in an email.

On a visit to Jakarta, Mendez experienced the F1 sound himself for the first time at K7’s Ibisa Club and immdediately set about finding the local distributor in Manila - Stagecraft International. At least four other sound and light companies tendered AV proposals, but it was Stagecraft who presented the winning sound and light package. They feel they made the right choice.

How did the architects and interior designers work together with the sound and lighting designers?

According to Mendez, they worked closely together to achieve the best way to accommodate the technical requirements for sound and light, without compromising the basic design plan for Ascend. Initial meetings and brainstorming were held and the design ideas and blueprints were drafted. Things evolved well through weekly meetings during the construction phase. From initial concept to completion of the venue took just 11 months.

Pre opening in November 2007, they were fortunate enough to have Funktion One’s Tony and Ann Andrews fly in to Manila to personally calibrate the dancestacks. They were impressed by the couple’s down-to-earth attitude, not minding at all about the cement, dust and noise on the construction site, as they hurriedly had the stacks set-up for the calibration and sound check.

During the afternoon sound check, the sound reverberated to the nearby offices as the glass windows of the building that were not yet completely installed. As a result they were shut down by the property administration and advised to resume after office hours. “In a way, it gave all in the area a taste of things to come,” commented Mendez gleefully.

How is Ascend different from other clubs in Manila? Apart from the obvious already stated, one major point is the very flexible layout with a spacious second floor divided into the Club and Lounge / Restaurant by sliding glass panels that can be opened to handle bigger events and functions.

All three rooms, including Skye-VIP lounge on the third floor, have their own DJs and music to go with, but the entire place can also be rigged to have one common source of music from the main club DJ booth - usually applicable when there are big name DJs spinning, and all three rooms are opened to accommodate a larger crowd.

These days, many venues have attached restaurants but the one at Ascend has its own DJ booth and is completely modular, in that all the tables and chairs can be instantly cleared away when the diners are ready to dance but too sated for a stroll to the main dance floor. Chairs around a main dining table have different heights, not for seniority of guests but to emphasize the rising theme. Close inspection of Ascend’s interiors reveals commendable finishing that far exceeds most other clubs in Asia. Ascend is built to last - it’s no fly by night façade.

Oliver Mendez proudly declares that Ascend is not just an “enclosed box with speakers and lights”. The club has vast windows - big glass panels with great views of cosmopolitan Manila - with the best vistas attained in Skye, the very exclusive VIP lounge located on the third floor.

“Ascend is proud to be the first in the Philippines to have Funktion One Dancestacks. It’s just amazing, powerful sound that comes out of those systems, and they just blow people away. And they look awesome. People see them as ‘Transformer’ robots and we’re so proud of them we’ve been referring to them as the ‘Lamborghini of sound systems’.”


Mondo*dr met with key architects and designers, Patricia Flancia and Frenjick Quesada in Manila. They explained some of their principal design elements - principally the origame inspired decor. The ceilings in the lounge and restaurant is a collection of angular folds - a theme repeated around the DJ booth in the main room.

Coincidentally, they perfectly match the Funktion One speakers. In the VIP Skye lounge, twin chandeliers are designed by Frenjick Quesada himself and warm, dimmable incandescent lighting emanates from glass flutes, casting gentle light about the room. For Mendez and his team the most challenging part of realising Ascend was keeping the construction schedule on track. Getting designers, contractors and suppliers on the same page was a nightmare for the most part.

The most enjoyable part? “Showing people around the venue and seeing the amazement in their eyes!”

(Words & Pics: Jimmie Wing)

 

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