"An empty stadium, an open field or a busy urban thoroughfare, each - when transformed by spectacle - undergoes an alchemic process," says David Rockwell. "A group of strangers fuses into an instant community. As an architect I strive to make environments where people connect. This is rooted in vivid recollections of my childhood - from amateur theater on the Jersey shore to the open air markets of Guadalajara Mexico - that have made me deeply aware of the power of shared experience. By physically attending an event, you declare yourself; you become something greater than you."
David Rockwell grew up performing in his mother’s vaudeville productions, and this sense of performance, of architecture as theater, informs every aspect of his work. He seems to focus first on the actors who will populate his “set”, seeking to construct a space which they can inhabit comfortably and in which they are then free to “perform” restaurant, airport terminal or hotel. Interiors are molded to this experiential view of the building, so that they reflect the essential concepts and themes back to those inhabiting the space, reinforcing their vital and defining participation in the performance.
This combination of pioneering attitude and talent has led to David Rockwell becoming one of the world’s leading architects and designers and his firm, Rockwell Group, now employs one hundred and fifty designers hailing from almost every conceivable creative media, including artists, sculptors, chefs, opera singers, architects, playwrights and set designers. This sense of creative eclecticism informs more than Rockwell’s hiring policy, and the firm’s list of projects spans chic boutique hotels, the Academy Awards in Hollywood, and his exhilarating collaboration with the prestigious chain of Nobu restaurants.
The images of his work reveal restaurants that resemble more extravagant film or theater sets than high class eateries, such as the glass menagerie of Victorian curiosities that simultaneously dominate and complement the restaurant at the Ames Hotel in Boston. Often the details are so finely wrought and yet writ so large that one fails to get a true sense of what being there is like. So we see the breathtaking bamboo terrazzo that lines the private Hibachi Room at Nobu Fifty Seven, enveloping it with a sense of rich infinite intimacy, or the use of white as a palette of great sensual depth in the bridal floor of exclusive jewelers Mauboussin.
Perhaps this point is best exemplified by Rockwell’s work on a seemingly more prosaic project - the JetBlue Terminal at JFK International Airport. Concerned over passengers’ ordinarily nightmarish experience of transit in airport terminals, he enlisted Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell, with whom he had worked on a number of successful Broadway shows. Mitchell advised that a circular or curved trajectory was much more in keeping with natural human patterns of movement and therefore more conducive to a positive experience of air travel and he Rockwell designed a traffic pattern that more resembles a collective dance than the hideous, blinkered flight for survival of most airports. Realizing the different emotional needs invoked by different stages of air travel, Rockwell and Mitchell designed two integrated but distinct pathways for those arriving to check in - who have a laborious and delay filled experience awaiting them - and those arriving - whose only desire is to leave the airport as quickly as possible. Rising like bleachers at a ball park, high stepped platforms divide the flow of foot traffic between those arriving and those departing and demand to be sat upon and watched from, creating a sense of spectacle and participation from the bustling throng - the observed and the observing creating their own performance.
David Rockwell´s point seems to be that buildings are who is in them, that design is not that which is perceived, but who is perceiving it.
- Benjamin Stewart
Address: 5 Union Square West
New York, 10003
Tel: 212 463 0334
Photo Credit: Eric Laignel: Adour, Nobu Dabai
Morgans Hotel Group: Ames Hotel
Hyatt: Wall & Water
Paul Warchol: Cirque du Soleil
Annie Schlecter: The Greenwich Hotel
Barbel Miebach: Mauboussin
Scott Frances: Nobu 57
George Mitchell: Nobu Hong Kong
Ampas: Oscars 2010