The Incredible Design Storytelling and Inspiration of David Rockwell

david rockwell

You don’t forget a David Rockwell design when your lay your eyes upon it in person. Grand, delicate, and brimming with a shine that reflects the architect’s background in theater, David has been wowing guests of renowned hotels, restaurants, and theaters for over three decades.

In this interview with David reveals his inspiration for design, how his upbringing around vaudville shaped the way he sees things, and how his goal is to solve the problem of elevating a space with each new project. It’s an interesting view into some of the most chic places in New York, California, and Las Vegas – spaces that many people may only see briefly, but can’t help but stare in awe.

oscars-82nd-rockwell group The 82nd Academy Awards.

Curbed: Your career seems to be focused on designing hotels, restaurants, and other public spaces. Was that a conscious decision?

David: The firm is 29 years old, we began with residential and hospitality both, really circumstantial. I was working for someone else. I was offered the chance to do a ground-up house freelance and also a restaurant that came about because of my interest in lighting, one of the things I was very interested in as an architecture student, and subsequent to that working for a year for a theatrical lighting designer. Those were the two first things that I did on my own, and then used those as an opportunity to create my own firm. I think since then what I’ve discovered about hotels and restaurants that so interests me is that they’re about things that engage us. One of the things is how design creates community and there’s a kind-of amazing mash up that happens in a hotel. It’s a combination of many different things, public space—which ties into our interest in how hotels can be very much a part of their community and looking at cities from the inside out.

The lobby, Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. The lobby, Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.

Curbed: Does the fact that hotel guests have only a brief experience with the design cause you to take more risks? Or do you try to appeal to a wider, mainstream audience than you might for a private residence?

David: I don’t know. I’m not really the compare and contrast type of person, in terms of wired to see how those opportunities are different. I think they’re both, right? First of all it’s a chance to collaborate. When we’re working on a restaurant, we’re collaborating with the chef and the owner and the operator. We’re doing a new hotel in Maui for Hyatt, in Waialeia, called Andaz Maui (above). It’s our largest resort. It’s an incredible site, so part of our narrative comes from the site, but we’re also doing a restaurant there for Morimoto where he is what we’re basing the story on. We do do some residential, and when we do that we try to extract a script, a point of view, all of the idiosyncrasies that will lead away from generic. Because that’s something that doesn’t really interest the firm: generic design.

Curbed: The Cosmopolitan, another major Vegas project of yours. Can you tell us about what the goals were there, compared to Nobu?

David: Cosmopolitan was about creating and evolving a visual language for a brand that didn’t exist. It was about creating a new idea. By the time we got on board, the concrete slabs were already up, it had changed ownership, the bank took back the project and brought in another developer to help guide it. We were brought in to give it a point of view, originally, and we started, piece by piece, thinking about a couple of things. With every project, we try to find the key problem to solve. How can design elevate the opportunity there? At Nobu Hotel, it was how to extend the ideas of Nobu’s food, in a very simple way. At Cosmopolitan, it is, by nature, a very vertical thing. I don’t know how many acres it is, but its something like six acres compared to sixty-two acres at City Center. It’s a very compressed site, with planning necessitating retail and restaurants on the second and third levels.

Chandelier Bar The Chandelier Bar at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Images via Rockwell Group

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