Architect David Rockwell draws on his love of drama and spectacle to create fantastic, high-impact restaurants, malls, airline terminals, theater sets — and playgrounds.

Why you should listen

David Rockwell does dramatic design, from the sleek interiors of Nobu and the W Hotels to the exuberant Mohegan Sun Casino, from the pop-tastic scenery for the Broadway musical Hairspray to the sublimely hilarious high-modern sets for Team America: World Police.

He won the Presidential Design Award for his extraordinary work renovating New York's Grand Central Station, and his firm, the Rockwell Group, is designing the interior for the JetBlue terminal at New York's JFK Airport. Rockwell has published several books on his architectural and design process, including Pleasure and Spectacle -- two qualities that abound in his work.

But Rockwell is no mere drama junkie. His designs for a temporary viewing platform at Ground Zero, constructed in the days after 9/11, demonstrate his ability to tune in to the requirements of each space. Meanwhile, a recent project takes the playfulness inherent in his work to its logical conclusion: the Imagination Playground is a free-play space for kids. The first playground is being built at Burling Slip in Manhattan, and plans are afoot to bring the concept nationwide in partnership with KaBOOM! The Burling Slip Imagination Playground is scheduled to open July of 2010. 

With Chee Pearlman, Rockwell was co-curator of the TED2012 session "The Design Studio."

What others say

“Rockwell always builds a bit of magic into his spaces. He uses materials and lighting to create the effect of being in a theater. To Rockwell, designing an environment means shaping an experience that lasts in the memory.” — BusinessWeek

David Rockwell’s TED talks

David Rockwell on the TED Blog
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The making of the TED2014 theater: an early view

July 19, 2013

The TED2014 theater will be something audacious: a theater designed specifically for talks. TED stages in the past have had thrusts and three-quarter rounds, but have largely been determined by what existed in the venue. For TED2014, however, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we are building a temporary, pop-up theater designed just for us […]

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Meet TED2012 guest host Chee Pearlman: A short Q&A

February 28, 2012

For the third consecutive year, TED has invited a guest curator to host a session at the conference. This time, duties have fallen to a duo: design commentator, Chee Pearlman, and architect and founder of Rockwell Group, David Rockwell. The two are collaborating on “The Design Studio,” a session featuring a host of boldface creative […]

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David Rockwell talks about building the 9/11 viewing platform, on

June 12, 2007

Architect David Rockwell loves to create drama and spectacle, in his designs for casino interiors, hotels, restaurants, movie and theater sets, and even a playground. Shortly after 9/11, he collaborated with other designers and architects to create a temporary viewing platform overlooking Ground Zero in New York. Here, in conversation with Kurt Andersen, Rockwell talks […]

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