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Interview: Architect David Rockwell

The designer of the first W Hotel discusses Las Vegas, TED Talks and foosball.

David Rockwell

Hometowns Deal, New Jersey, and Guadalajara, Mexico
Home Base New York
Claim to Fame Designed the first W hotel, the sets for the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards and restaurants for chefs Nobu, Bobby Flay and José Andrés
Current Projects Battersea Power Station in London; Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park in Brooklyn
Next vacation "Las Vegas, to watch my son, Sam, play in a national Ping-Pong tournament."

As a designer, do you engineer travel memories?
A show at the theatre lasts two hours, but the memory is deep. We think of architecture as a kind of performance; we want people to leave with a connection.

How do you approach the renovation of a heritage property?
We try to pick up on what's extraordinary and then bring fresh life to it. With Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, we worked with Quebecois artisans who restored the woodwork, and the front desks are covered with a hand-painted pattern inspired by a design from the Maxwell brothers, the architects who did the expansion of the hotel in 1920.

Does that differ when you have a blank slate?
We worked with the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to develop its brand DNA. In the lobby, we covered 14-foot-tall columns with 400 plasma screens behind two-way mirrors. As you move through the space, you affect what's on the screen.

Can a conference space be innovative?
If you're at a five-day conference like TED2014 in Vancouver, do you want to sit the same way for each segment? With 8,000 pieces of locally harvested Douglas fir and 16 different types of seating, we created a pop-up 1,200-seat theatre that's built to come together in five days and has a 10-year lifespan.

What's it like working with chef José Andrés?
He has an idea a minute. At Jaleo in Las Vegas, there's a wood-burning paella grill in the centre of the restaurant. (You can imagine how much the hotel liked that.) And he wanted a foosball table in the front. I thought I was good, but I couldn't beat him.

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