Clubs are undergoing a facelift. Susanna Drew-Edwards finds that pulsating shells are out and designer interiors are in
`it's funky, late-modernistic construction," said the promoter, confusingly. "It's more fruity than the clean and clinical industrial look. There are walls at funny angles and bits of steel flying out and light fittings which are quite awesome." The building being talked about is The Republic, a club, bar and gallery which opened this month in Sheffield. A pounds 1.4m conversion in an old engineering works, The Republic is apparently aimed at twentysomethings who want more than a tinpot commercial rave venue. "That's why we've put so much emphasis on architecture and design."

This is the new breed of clubs. Thanks to the Criminal Justice Act, which brought about the demise of the impromptu rave venue, nightclubs seem to be experiencing a reaction against the hardcore rawness of the rave scene. Forget the neutral black box with flashing lights, and the sound system. Instead, architects and designers have been drafted in to create the club with personality - the club designed with the clubber in mind.

The Candy Room at The Escape is a basement seafront club in Brighton which has undergone one such designer facelift. Pre-nip and tuck, clubbers would dance in a dark, cold industrial-look basement complete with steel girders and nowhere to sit down to have a drink away from the blare of music. Today, they can groove Barbarella- style in a brighter atmosphere, surrounded by zebra-striped columns, colour and squashy tub seating. "We wanted to make it a more interesting playground," says promoter Kenny Fabulous. "Clubs have been getting quite serious over the past few years, and we wanted to get away from that. The basic reason why people go clubbing is to have a good time. Although we're always going to be left with a concrete basement, we based the whole design on the fact that when you walked in, you were going into a fun, soft place to be rather than a hard, serious venue."

But how much of this club's design is based on what the punters want? "Although lighting and music are the key elements of a club, there comes a time when, if people want to make this their home town retreat, they want something more," says Max Eaglen of MED, the designers responsible for the new look. "People want a good space to dance in, a good place to sit and a good bar to stand at - they're the basics. But doing this also made us realise that if you can manage to change the environment each night so that it feels a bit different, it gives a new feeling to the club. It's important to be versatile to bring in the people."

Clubbing now isn't just about getting out your head and dancing, it's about fashion, art, design and architecture. The Escape's customers are trendy-somethings, a good percentage of students and a definite step away from the "oik" or "too dressy" image. The music is a mix of different styles, different nights. "We want to separate ourselves from the cheesy Mecca-style clubs," says Kenny Fabulous, "and have somewhere where regulars can dress up without getting their clothes covered in beer."

A "transluscent" mesh-covered dance box, complete with James Bond-style dancing babes and video effects, keeps the queues for the bar entertained while they wait, and adds to the idea of an interior as spontaneous entertainment. Sharp lighting in blues and purples is used to change one big space into smaller "moody" backdrops, and ultraviolet paint and light break up the spaces and dead areas.

So if this is hip and happening now, what do we expect in the future? "We're trying to be a bit drastic and different here," says Kenny Fabulous. "By the time others catch up, we'll be moving on to keep people interested." Max Eaglen agrees. "This is a flyer. It'll be in vogue and then people will get bored, but I don't think you can set a trend, as people will always be looking for something different. This place was to let people have fun and it worked - they loved it and they're still coming. The next step is the new sound system."