David Rockwell is known for his dramatic and spectacular designs which can be easily noticed in many fantastic, high-impact restaurants, malls, airline terminals, theater sets and even playgrounds. His works varies from the sleek interiors of Nobu and the W Hotels to the exuberant Mohegan Sun Casino, from the pop-tastic scenery for the Broadway musical Hairspray to the sublimely hilarious high-modern sets for Team America: World Police.

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More than that, David Rockwell won the Presidential Design Award for his extraordinary work renovating New York’s Grand Central Station, and his firm, the Rockwell Group, is designing the interior for the JetBlue terminal at New York’s JFK Airport. Rockwell has published several books on his architectural and design process, including Pleasure and Spectacle — two qualities that abound in his work.

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But Rockwell is no mere drama junkie. His designs for a temporary viewing platform at Ground Zero, constructed in the days after 9/11, demonstrate his ability to tune in to the requirements of each space. Meanwhile, a recent project takes the playfulness inherent in his work to its logical conclusion: the Imagination Playground is a free-play space for kids. The first playground is being built at Burling Slip in Manhattan, and plans are afoot to bring the concept nationwide in partnership with KaBOOM! The Burling Slip Imagination Playground is scheduled to open July of 2010.

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Biography: the man before the myth

David Rockwell (born 1956) is an American architect and designer. He is the founder and President of Rockwell Group, a 250-person award winning, cross-disciplinary architecture and design practice based in New York City with satellite offices in Madrid and Shanghai.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Rockwell also spent part of his childhood in Deal, New Jersey and Guadalajara, Mexico. He was a child of the theater as his mother worked as a vaudeville dancer and choreographer. She sometimes cast him in community repertory productions.

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Rockwell brought his passion for theater and an eye for the color and spectacle of Mexico to his architecture training at Syracuse University, where he received his Bachelor of Architecture. He also studied at the Architectural Association in London. These formative influences continue to shape his practice.

David founded Rockwell Group in 1984. Over the past 30 years, Rockwell Group has carved out a unique role encompassing multiple ideas, design styles, clients and project types. The firm creates a unique narrative for each project, ranging from restaurants, hotels, airport terminals, and hospitals, to festivals, museum exhibitions, and Broadway sets.

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Background & Realizations: the projects

Rockwell‘s group has many different projects and partnership to be proud of. With global offices to support a far-reaching vision, Rockwell Group is an interdisciplinary firm that emphasizes innovation and thought leadership in every project. They create extraordinary experiences and built environments the world over. Here you can see some of their recent projects:

Culture Shed

Culture Shed is an innovative, accessible home for the creative industries in the Hudson Yards district. Sited along the High Line at 30th Street, this unique facility designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group, will welcome a range of activities by local and international organizations spanning the worlds of visual art, design, media and performance.

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Chefs Club

Located in the landmark Puck Building in Lower Manhattan, Chefs Club by Food & Wine is a restaurant that showcases the work of a rotating roster of international star chefs in a theatrical setting directed by master chef Didier Elena.

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OMNIA

Inspired by European concert halls, the Hakkasan Group’s OMNIA nightclub, located in the former PURE Nightclub space at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, merges opulent design embedded with state-of-the-art technology to create an immersive, sensory, ever-changing experience.

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Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

Modern, approachable luxury redefines this historic hotel. Originally built in 1893, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac overlooks the St. Lawrence River and Old Quebec. Rockwell Group’s renovations of the hotel’s public spaces called for the restoration of historic details and preservation of signature pieces.

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The Most Iconic Projects:

Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park

The world’s second site-specific Imagination Playground park is a pro-bono project designed for Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood and developed in collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

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Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

Almost 20 years after creating the first Nobu restaurant in New York, the legendary name became a hotel. A collaboration between chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro, restaurateur Meir Teper, and Rockwell Group, the hotel is an extension of the history and meticulous craft present in everything that bears the Nobu name.

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The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Working with the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Rockwell Group transformed guests’ experiences from the minute they enter the lobby of the luxury hotel and casino. From there, theatrical venues and customized accommodations grant each visitor access to an unforgettable world.

People say about David Rockwell

“Rockwell always builds a bit of magic into his spaces. He uses materials and lighting to create the effect of being in a theater. To Rockwell, designing an environment means shaping an experience that lasts in the memory.” — BusinessWeek

Rockwell certainly has fall-back aesthetics, such as using rich fabrics and textures as his paint, but a certain design catholicism sets him apart from most in his field. “In a classic architecture practice, you sort of know you’re going to get a very accomplished version of whatever it is they do,” says Marc Hacker, director of strategy at Rockwell Group, based in New York. “Here, there’s no prejudice toward what the eventual outcome will be.”

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Special projects

Rockwell group also do create a set design. Check the list of their most interesting set designs of the company.

TED Theater

A temporary, portable venue for TED’s 30th annual conference required some theatrical experimentation. The nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” invited Rockwell Group to design and build a theater within the Vancouver Convention Centre’s 45,000-square-foot ballroom.

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Hairspray

Hairspray, the story of a spunky, bouffant-haired dance lover named Tracy Turnblad, begs for sets that are equally flamboyant. Challenged with turning the 1988 movie into a Broadway production, Rockwell Group captured the quirky humor of the story for a theatrical setting.

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81st and 82nd Academy Awards

The annual Academy Awards have become one of the greatest shared rituals of our time. Rockwell Group reimagined the stage on which the ceremony takes place, creating an immersive experience to engage an international television audience of more than 37 million people each year.

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Harvey

Inspired by the era in which it was written, the set design for Harvey favors authenticity over abstraction in two revolving environments: the Dowd Family mansion and the Sanitarium. The Roundabout Theatre Company commissioned Rockwell Group to design the Broadway return of this Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy by playwright Mary Chase.

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Lucky Guy

Lucky Guy is the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Mike McAlary, played by Tom Hanks. The play, written by Nora Ephron and directed by George C. Wolfe, required Rockwell Group to recreate multiple New York City newsrooms from the 1980s and 1990s. Carefully researched scenery details and furniture recreate various scenes within the smoke-filled world of the tabloid journalist. The primary element of the minimalist design is the hovering grid of the newsroom ceiling, which serves both to compress the space and as a projection surface for the images that define many of the scenes.

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Inspirational quotes by David Rockwell

“I like entertainment and think mastery is good, though I don’t feel like a master. If a theme means having a story that’s legible, then that’s certainly what we do. But we don’t treat design as an add-on layer.” David Rockwell

“Every project is an opportunity to learn, to figure out problems and challenges, to invent and reinvent.” David Rockwell“

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“[The space marks Rockwell’s first airport project, even if it is more about hospitality than transportation.] What’s intriguing to me about design is how it tells a story and connects with you emotionally, how it in some way makes life better — that it’s not arbitrary, … And there’s something so nonarbitrary about JetBlue.”

“We’re showing the romance of travel at a different scale — not at the level of a whole building, but as a series of experiences on the inside, on a scale that doesn’t try and compete with the Saarinen building.”

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“What we’ve done (in Detroit) is created a movie set so it gives movie-goers a chance to enter a space that feels like a sound stage and in fact, is very sound-stage-like in how it’s set up, … But the set that you’re entering into is a collage of both existing and historical Detroit buildings.”

“The key is to have a kind of core DNA – a series of pieces that are part of the look of the restaurant, that change and morph based on conditions in each case.”

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“It creates a kind of landmark that people know when they go to Rosa. It’s almost like an oasis. It’s kind of cool; it orients you.”

“For me the most interesting part of theater is the relationship between the audience and the performer. In creating a theater, you get to mold essentially, out of raw clay, what that relationship’s going to be. That’s an interesting thing you don’t get to do on Broadway.”

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Talent is a heritage

For decades, David Rockwell has contributed more to our local environments than perhaps any single interior architect and designer in the history of New York City. You may think now where it came from? It all started the first time he stepped foot in Times Square. He was 12 years old. The year was 1968, and he was on his way to his first Broadway play.

Rockwell was living in New Jersey, and he came to town with his mother, stepfather and three brothers. They ate at the legendary ice cream parlor Schrafft’s and saw “Fiddler on the Roof.”Rockwell’s father had died when he was 3, and he lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Deal, New Jersey, where his mom, who was in vaudeville, worked as a costume designer at local community theater. He was always around theater sets, passion and excitement. He liked to build things himself. It gave him control, he says, in an uncontrollable world. Broadway mesmerized him. Like all of us in this city, the energy, pace, people, lights and possibility ran through his body like electricity.”It was totally mind-blowing,” says Rockwell, 54.

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“The signs of Times Square blew smoke.The restaurant, which of course isn’t there anymore, had all this chatter. And then the theater. So celebratory.”Almost 1,300 people coming together as this temporary community to laugh and sing and share their lives around a story. I will never forget it.”Who would? But not many people would turn that experience into a career of designing some of the most important restaurants and public spaces in the city, and world.

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The Creator’s Choice

David’s numerous honors include the 2008 National Design Award by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum for outstanding achievement in Interior Design; the 2009 Pratt Legends Award; the Presidential Design Award for his renovation of the Grand Central Terminal; induction into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America and Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame; inclusion in Architectural Digest’s AD 100; three Tony Award nominations for Best Scenic Design; and four Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Scenic Design of a Musical. Rockwell Group was twice named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative design practices in their annual World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies issue.

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D. Rockwell’s books:

Pleasure: The Architecture and Design of Rockwell Group, Universe, a division of Rizzoli Books, 2002.

David Rockwell with Bruce Mau, Spectacle, Phaidon Press, 2006. Examines the history and public fascination with larger-than-life man-made events.

What If…?: The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell, Metropolis Books, 2014.

 

Top Projects Gallery:

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