Staffed not just by architects and designers but also by coders, engineers, and strategists, the Rockwell Group is an innovative, tech-savvy firm that creates multi-sensory environments using state-of-the-art lighting systems and arresting visual effects. Its diverse portfolio includes Nobu hotels and restaurants, the auditorium for the 2014 TED Conference, and the occasional high-end residence. The Manhattan-based practice, with offices in Madrid and Shanghai, was founded 30 years ago by David Rockwell, who grew up immersed in the dramatic arts, a passion reflected in his Tony-nominated set designs. “Theater has been a huge influence,” Rockwell says. “I like to bring a scenic designer’s sensibility to my architectural work.”
With a desire to create immersive environments, Rockwell Group takes a cross-disciplinary approach to its inventive array of projects.
David Rockwell has long harbored a fascination with immersive environments. He was born in Chicago and grew up in the theater—his mother, a vaudeville dancer and choreographer, often cast him in community repertory productions. But when he was 12, David’s family had a dramatic scene change, moving from Deal, New Jersey to Guadalajara, Mexico. There he discovered a whole new world of vibrant marketplaces, street life, and public spaces.
David founded Rockwell Group in 1984.
After training in architecture at Syracuse University and the Architectural Association in London, David brought his passion for theater and artistic eye for the color and spectacle of Mexico to his profession. Today, his work ranges from restaurants, hotels, airport terminals, and hospitals, to festivals, museum exhibitions, and Broadway sets.
David’s honors include the 2008 National Design Award from the 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. David is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. 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.
Known for his commitment to charitable organizations, David currently serves as Chair Emeritus of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) and as a board member of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum and Citymeals-on-Wheels.
The Most Iconic Projects
The firm specializes in a wide array of project types, from hospitality, cultural and healthcare, to educational, product, and set design. Named as one of Fast Company’s most innovative design practices, the firm crafts a unique narrative for each project through the intersection of theater and architecture.
Projects include W Hotels in New York, Paris, Singapore, and Vieques; Nobu restaurants and hotels worldwide; Andaz Wall Street and Andaz Maui at Wailea; Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Bar Americain in New York; Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel; NeueHouse, a new concept in shared work spaces in New York; Shinola Flagship TriBeca; the Elinor Bunin-Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center; the Imagination Playground initiative; set design for the 2009 and 2010 annual Academy Awards; projects for Google worldwide; the Marketplace at the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport; the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore; Tower D and Culture Shed at New York’s Hudson Yards in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro; and set design for Kinky Boots, Lucky Guy, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Catch Me if You Can, Harvey, The Normal Heart, and A Free Man of Color; Andaz Wall Street and Andaz Maui at Wailea; “Hall of Fragments,” the entrance installation to the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale; a fabric collection for Jim Thompson; a collection of wall coverings for Maya Romanoff; and a collection of rugs, wall hangings, and pillows for The Rug Company.
This project position Rockwell Group on the list of 10 the most innovative companies of 2015
For taking modular homes luxury- prefabricated homes, which are manufactured off-site and can be easily shipped, have long been touted as an easy way to provide affordable, environmentally friendly housing. In 2014, architect David Rockwell teamed up with titan appliance Fred Carl to design the first luxury prefabricated homes.
The 2,400 square-foot house contains four rectangular rooms arranged around a 500-square-foot interior courtyard. The kitchen comes complete with professional-grade appliances, and in order to make the design more customizable, Rockwell is hoping to offer interior additions, like prefab wine cellars. The exterior can be customized to fit the aesthetic of the local landscape, ensuring that each home doesn’t look factory-made.
VIRGIN Hotel Chicago
It’s a British invasion! For Richard Branson’s first Virgin hotel, located in downtown Chicago, historic Art Deco features are restored and showcased along with contemporary design elements. Behind the stately façade of the landmarked 1928 Old Dearborn Bank Building, Rockwell Group Europe created fun and quirky amenities for the modern traveler.
Guests check in at a vintage cigar counter original to the building. A carpet—in Virgin’s splashy, signature red—leads them on a whimsical journey to mirrored elevators.
For the first Nobu restaurant in the Middle East, Rockwell Group further extended the Nobu brand. As an evolution of the concepts developed for the flagship Nobu 57, at Nobu Dubai an emphasis is placed on craftsmanship, natural materials and storytelling. A fluid, curvilinear environment is created through the use of large-scale computer generated woven panels that surround the restaurant walls and ceiling.
Way to success
How does the magic happen at Rockwell Group? “Pixie dust,” quips Marc Hacker, the firm’s in-house “Thinker.” All jokes aside, there is some truth here. From the animated Quan Yin statue in TAO Downtown to the shifting set of Kinky Boots, to the child-directed free play of the Imagination Playground, a distinct sense of magic imbues every one of these projects. All of them are driven not so much by a look, or even a sensibility, but by the endlessly curious creative process that shaped them. “I know this sounds trite, but it’s not about what’s true now,” says founder and president David Rockwell. “It’s about asking, ‘what if?’” What if an architect could be as experimental as a chef? What if the stage set became a character? What if your environment could transform with every step?
In the Rockwell Group world, asking “What if?”—also the title of a new book being released by Metropolis Books in December to commemorate the firm’s 30th anniversary—has led to an embrace of design at all scales. “On a given day, we could be working on an exhibition, a park, a master plan, an airport interior, a children’s hospital, and a night-club,” Rockwell says. “That confluence of things is probably what makes us most unique.” The process behind these projects —the Rockwell way—is really a set of permissions to roam and explore.
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