PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

He has designed sets for the Academy Awards in Hollywood and a whole new range of furnishing fabrics for Jim Thompson, adding an entirely new dimension to that specialism. He covers the entire world with his design group. As he himself puts it, he is not afraid to take risks and opening up new creative horizons. David Rockwell is the spider in a design web that captures a variety of disciplines.

He explained to OBJEKT©International how his passion for theatre and cinema influences his work.

We met David Rockwell in the Paris Musée national des Arts asiatiques – Guimet during preparations for the spectacular presentation of his latest furnishing fabric creations for Jim Thompson. He had unleashed among the old Asian artifacts a veritable zoo, including tigers, alligators and monkeys whose ‘skins’ were made from fabrics out of that collection.

We put a number of key questions to him.

You created a unique position in the design market world wide. How did you do that and what are the key elements of that global success?

Taking risks and not being afraid to fail are vital to any creative endeavour. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented people coming from really diverse backgrounds. These collaborations always enrich our projects, so we know how important it is to continually stay open to new and unexpected sources of inspiration.

Please provide a short history of your company and its aims. Also some of your major works.

Rockwell Group was founded in 1984 and is based in New York, with satellite offices in Madrid and Shanghai. We aim to never stop expanding or exploring, to constantly take on challenges and continue to create unique, individual projects and products for each new client.

Some of our projects include W Hotels in New York, Paris, Singapore, and Vieques; set design for the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards; the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco; Imagination Playground; The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; a fabric collection for Jim Thompson; the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center; set design for Broadway musicals including Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Catch Me if You Can, The Normal Heart, and Harvey; Adour Alain Ducasse at The St. Regis New York; Andaz Wall Street and Wailea; and Nobu restaurants worldwide including New York, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Melbourne, Dubai, and Doha.

How would you describe your work and your style?

We’re driven by ideas, which means we don’t have a set style or vocabulary. This allows us to see each project as an opportunity to learn and experiment with new materials and techniques. Because of our diverse talent, communal workspace, and highly collaborative approach, we think of Rockwell Group as a laboratory. We approach each new project with a fresh perspective and a focus on the particular history and context of the client and location, and then use design to tell the story inherent to the project. We also like to combine technology with handcrafted elements. We strive to create environments that will foster connections among people.

What did designing of the Oscars theater add to your fame?

Designing the sets for the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards were both incredible experiences. I was particularly excited by these opportunities because my passion for the theater and cinema has been enormously influential in my work. I like the idea of the ephemeral because even something fleeting can have a big impact and create a lasting memory. And I’ve learned how to approach architecture the same way that many seminal figures in the performing arts approach their work.

What do you prefer: residential or commercial/hospitality design and why?

It’s hard to say whether I prefer one over the other. In both spaces, people are coming together to share and create communal spaces. I love being able to foster these interactions through immersive, memorable design.

It seems that we have come from a time where ‘More is More’ and are now moving to a more sensible design scene: alternative energy sources and the need for social cohesion in a healthy living environment are fundamental contemporary issues that converge in spatial planning, architecture and design. Is this true for you and how does it translate into your work?

I think that architects and developers are viewing sustainable design as a requirement, not an option. And that’s really because we feel it is our responsibility to build with sustainable, local products and techniques whenever possible. Sometimes our clients require it and sometimes they don’t, but in this global climate, we have to respond to it.

What, for you, are the essential elements of a good interior?

It’s always important to hone in on the specific concept, idea, feeling, or story the space is trying to convey. Our overarching goal is to create spaces that engage all the senses and encourage connections to the environment and among the people within that environment. We seek to embody comfort in unexpected ways.

You designed a very special textile collection for Jim Thompson. What was the inspiration and how hard was it to do this special job?

For our fabric collection for Jim Thompson, we looked to the theater and to nature as sources of inspiration. We went in two different color directions for the twelve different patterns that make up the collection: modern metallic surfaces and bold, punchy colors found in nature. We looked at how the effects of light could enhance our color palette.

Warm bronze tones and silvery platinum finishes were mixed to create shimmery, light-reflective surfaces found in the theater. The feather patterns and colors of birds were also sources of inspiration. We used an array of rich hues including teals, purple, indigo, coral red, bright yellow, orange, and green. We wanted the colors and fabrics to be able to move between residential and commercial spaces, so that people would feel at home when they were out, and stylish when they were at home.

What for you are essential elements in a good interior fabric?

Our fabrics always reflect a focus on texture and handcrafted materials. While it’s important to keep materials in mind when designing a product, they shouldn’t become a hindrance to the concept.  We always approach a project starting with a strong concept, and then we identify materials and a process to achieve the goal. Design is about pushing the boundaries and exploring new possibilities, and it is no different when working with fabric.

Who are your favorite artists?

Andy Goldsworthy, Isamu Noguchi

What are you working on in the near future?

Nobu Hotel, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nobu Restaurant in Doha, Southampton Pavilion, a performing arts space in Southampton, New York; National Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum, Atlanta.

The W Singapore-Sentosa Cove, Hyatt Wailea, Hawaii,

Broadway shows: Kinky Boots and Dead Accounts.

The Madrid office, Rockwell Group Europe, is working on The Palace Hotel in Madrid, restaurants at the St. Regis in Doha, and a movie entertainment destination in Bangkok.