At NeoCon® 2016, David Rockwell to Keynote and Debut a Collection, Rockwell Unscripted, for Knoll

David Rockwell will be a 2016 NeoCon keynote speaker. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe

David Rockwell, FAIA, who leads the firm Rockwell Group based in New York, will be a NeoCon keynote speaker, presenting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14. Rockwell’s prolific career has included interiors for numerous hotels and restaurants, as well as theater sets. He was the 1998 Designer of the Year, and his firm won four Interiors Awards from Contract over the past two years. In Milan in April, Rockwell exhibited his first furniture collection, Valet, for Stellar Works. Contract interviewed Rockwell, who has also designed a collection for Knoll, called Rockwell Unscripted, which debuts at NeoCon.

The majority of the designers who attend NeoCon are designing workplace interiors. While your focus is on hospitality, your firm has also designed the interiors of NeueHouse in New York and Los Angeles, for example. How do you see hospitality influencing the design of workplaces today?
Companies need spaces that encourage creativity and the crosspollination of ideas more than ever before. Hospitality-influenced elements, such as an open, flexible lobbylike space or niches where employees can lounge or socialize, encourage serendipitous encounters and aha moments.

You’ve designed interiors in various locales and spaces based on specific cultures. Tell us about the influence of culture in designing interiors.
As hotels and restaurants are becoming social hubs for both tourists and locals, hospitality design is becoming more experience-driven. We’re conceiving more distinctive, idiosyncratic destinations that reflect their surroundings to create unique experiences for guests.

Many interiors that you design are within existing buildings with interesting pasts and unique surroundings. Describe the importance of place and history in your firm’s work.
Our studio sees every project as a completely new opportunity and challenge, so my starting point involves deep research to understand the client’s backstory and creative ambitions. Our objective is to always create a unique narrative for each project that is based on the client’s story and the surrounding environment. We’ve also been fortunate to work on several adaptive reuse projects in recent years, including NeueHouse Hollywood in the former CBS Radio Building, Hotel Bel-Air, and New York Edition [winner of Contract’s 2016 Interiors Award in the hotel category] in the original Met Life Tower.

The design industry is rapidly evolving. What excites you about design and your work today?
We’re excited to be able to apply our underlying interest in theater and transformation to new and different projects. We’ve addressed these concepts on a relatively large scale with the portable, 1,300-seat theater that we designed for the TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, three years ago.

We’re further exploring these concepts in our office furniture collaboration with Knoll, which will debut at NeoCon this June. It’s a comprehensive collection of set elements that adapt to the spontaneous choreography of a work environment. The collection relies on a theatrical analogy to explain how one’s space can be easily reorganized around three or four different activities, from individual work to team meetings, over the course of the day.

What is unique about the furniture for Stellar Works, which debuted in Milan?
Valet, our first-ever furniture collection is designed for both hospitality and residential environments. We wanted to design a collection that embraces a modern notion of luxury—one that emphasizes authenticity and comfort. In a hotel setting, the mobility of the pieces allows guests to arrange their rooms to make them feel a bit more like home. In a home, the multifunctional qualities of our furniture allow one to create a series of seamless transitions, from entry to work to entertaining and play.

Which Rockwell Group projects can we look forward to seeing completed in the remainder of 2016?
Hotels that will open soon include The Dream Hollywood in Los Angeles, Nobu Eden Roc in Miami Beach, and Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Luxury Collection hotel for Starwood in Tokyo. I’m designing the new Nobu restaurant in downtown New York, and I have designed a lighting collection with Rich Brilliant Willing.