Designer David Rockwell offers a guide to his creativity
The COVID-19 pandemic cut the bonds between people and emptied the spaces they encountered. For award-winning architect and theater designer David Rockwell, it struck at the very heart of his work.
From the design of the KAOS nightclub in Las Vegas to the transformation of historic Los Angeles Union Station to the Oscars, creating spaces for people to congregate has always been a central concern. Now this idea was actually dangerous.
In his first Zoom meeting with newly estranged members of his staff of 250, Rockwell began with grim humor against the backdrop of a frightened and locked town.
“I opened by saying, ‘Well, here’s the good news: at least we don’t depend on creating experiences to bring people together for a living.’ There was a kind of silence and I said, “Just kidding. In fact, this is what we do. So we have to find ways to do it. ”
As the nation cautiously emerges from its forties, Rockwell offers exactly that in book form: “Drama” – a sort of mood board for the way Rockwell sees the world and plenty of ideas for what one might look like. new post-COVID-19 world.
“Drama” is firmly at the intersection of theater and architecture, using examples from inside and outside the company to identify six fundamental concepts that the two disciplines share: audience, ensemble, worlds, history, travel and impermanence.
“I’ve thought about it for sort of my entire adult life because I’ve never seen a line between architecture and theater,” says Rockwell. “It’s been more of a feedback loop for me.”
The book, written with Bruce Mau and published by Phaidon, is full of striking images to explain the ideas. For example, how his design work for the Nobu Downtown restaurant found creative ways around architectural restrictions or how the Spanish Steps in Rome are designed to draw the eye to the sacred. He writes: “For me, design is about bringing people together and making them feel something.”
Count no less than Frank Gehry as a fan. “David is a great leader and a great inspiration in architecture, design, theater, well, you name him,” he said. “He’s a voracious designer, but he’s just as great a listener with boundless curiosity. . “Drama” shows you all the facets of this great talent. “
Throughout the book is a relentless optimistic view that life can be better and more beautiful if we just start by designing better spaces, especially where people meet.
“It’s such a positive thing to do something,” says Rockwell, who donates his share of royalties from the book to The Actors Fund. “One of the things designers can do is actually help create a solution.”
The Rockwell Group designs everything from cafes to theater sets. Rockwell’s first Broadway show was “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2000, and the credits started to pile up: “Hairspray”, “Legally Blonde”, “The Normal Heart” and “Tootsie”, among them. He won a Tony Award for “She Loves Me”.
Its architecture affects its settings and vice versa. When designing JetBlue’s $ 800 million terminal in New York City, Rockwell convinced the airline to consult with Tony award-winning choreographer-choreographer Jerry Mitchell to improve passenger movement.
The book illustrates a varied and multidisciplinary spirit, including interviews with architect Daniel Libeskind, music producer and composer Quincy Jones, museum director and curator Thelma Golden, playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, conductor and humanitarian José Andrés, and the Oscar winning production. designer Adam Stockhausen.
Rockwell has given a lot of thought to how we will come out of lockdown and maybe redefine what our public spaces mean, especially our open plan offices.
“After COVID, I think patterns of movement – choreography, understanding how people move, understanding adaptability – will be important for cities,” he says. “We are in a period of redefinition. So what are we going to do in the offices, why we have to go, I think everything is ripe to be reinvented.
Rockwell sees the continued need for Zoom meetings as something that will last after the pandemic, but he’s still a fan of face-to-face meetings, which can spark collaborations and new ideas.
“All the planning you put into designing something is hopefully allowing some spontaneous activity to happen,” he says. “It’s the 15 minutes between meetings when you meet someone having a cup of coffee and you might have an idea that won’t come from Zoom.”
He sees flexibility in the nation’s future, like the giant blue foam blocks he created as playground equipment that put the power of creation and collaboration in the hands of children. The Rockwell Group has helped restaurants during the pandemic by designing modular outdoor dining spaces and imagining portable staging for theater companies.
“There are opportunities for new creative ideas to hit the market,” he says. “There are spaces that are only used three or four hours a day. Are there other uses we can use them for? “
Rockwell recently showed his flexibility and style by creating an intimate cocktail lounge and gardens for the Oscars telecast, somehow succeeding in keeping him socially aloof but also stylish and keeping up with the early Oscars.
“I felt it was a chance to anchor it in the history and the power of films,” he says. “It was a complete game. It was like being a student again. It was three whole nights and a lot of intense work in Los Angeles but totally satisfying.”