David Rockwell

There is no doubt that architect David Rockwell, founder of Rockwell Group, has crafted some of our absolute favorite spaces. From the JetBlue Terminal, to The Public Theater’s new restaurant The Library, to Nobu, to the set of The Academy Awards, to Wynn Las Vegas, to the set of Hairspray, Rockwell has his own way of moving across industries. He’s made his mark on the landscape of most major cities in America (and the world for that matter).

In designing his spaces, he works in collaboration with a boundless array of tastemakers – choreographers, playwrights, chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers, financiers and more. Together they write a story with brick and mortar. He creates spaces, then lets them speak for themselves, which we love. The world seems to be his own personal playground. So, with the recent opening of his newest Broadway show Kinky Boots, we decided to take a turn through the narrative behind his work…

So you have two Broadway shows opening. How long have you been working on those?

It depends. I’ve been working on Kinky Boots for about two years, and on Lucky Guy for about a year. Sometimes I really think working quickly is good – in interiors, architecture and theater.

Do you take a different approach when it comes to different industries or do you take the same approach when you are going into any project?

I think we start out with the same questions, because I think at the end of the day design is a form of storytelling. So, we start out trying to understand the DNA of a project. With a restaurant, a lot of that initial energy will be about understanding the chef, the chef’s point of view and the history of the chef. In many cases, the chefs don’t articulate what they want, and it’s sometimes better if you’re working with a chef – or for that matter, on a new show – that you don’t find the other creatives are prescribing what to do but are instead talking about what motivates them.

We just completed a restaurant in the Public Theater (which I love) called The Library. The key drivers there were what Andrew Carmellini and his partners wanted to do food wise – something that was elevated above Joe’s Pub, but still a kind of drop-in spot – as well as to create a place that felt like it spoke to the amazing history of the Public Theater. That really intrigued me, so we started a collection of models, books and sketches. We looked at the idea of an inner sanctum – like a club – and that sort of inspired it.

So, whether the project is JetBlue’s terminal, the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, or the new Wynn Singapore on Sentosa Island, we’re going to try and find a narrative that grows out of specifics of the project, so that it couldn’t be anywhere else.

Can you tell me a little bit about working on Terminal Five at JFK Airport (the JetBlue Terminal)? What was the process like and why did you choose to do that?

Well, I’ve always been interested in movement in public spaces. We tend to think of New York as a series of tall iconic buildings, but I think the experience on the street is much more choreographed and random and more about collision. I spend a lot of time in airports and I find that movement in airports is never intuitive. You can never find your gate, and everyone seems to be moving the wrong way. It just felt like, if we could start off thinking about movement as a dance and if you could find your gate intuitively, we’d be better off. JetBlue was concerned that the number of people moving through the terminal would become a traffic jam, but we felt that the number of people was one of the great assets. If you could look at it as a dance and figure out what that movement might be, you might have a better experience.

So that’s how it happened. And that’s how Jerry Mitchell – who is the director of Kinky Boots and was the choreographer of the first Broadway shows I did – Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hairspray – ended up on the project.

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