Skip To Content
The Fair
The Bar at the Civilian Hotel in New York, designed by Rockwell Group. Photo credit: Johnny Miller
April 30, 2024

David Rockwell founded Rockwell Group in New York in 1984, five years after graduating from architecture school. Driven “by a cocktail of curiosity, restlessness and wonder,” as he describes it, he knew being confined to one project type wasn’t for him. The desire to be constantly learning and making has led to work across a range of typologies—products, theater, airports, and education, to name a few—and fueled his namesake practice, whose ranks have swelled to 300 people, spread between the New York headquarters and satellite offices in Los Angeles and Madrid.

If the firm has one defining characteristic, it is its ability to create spaces that bring people together and come alive when occupied. This overarching sense of hospitality, of creating places that foster connection and indulge one’s curiosity for life, has been evident since Rockwell’s first project, Sushi Zen. He transformed the midtown Manhattan space from a narrow, 25-foot-wide shoebox with no natural light into a warm, inviting restaurant that encouraged people to gather and linger.

To honor Rockwell, who also is the creative director of ICFF’s At the Crossroads of American Design feature, we asked him to choose five pivotal hospitality projects he has completed in New York over his firm’s past 40 years. All of his picks tell stories that unfold and surprise; all communicate care and intention to their visitors. As Rockwell says of the efforts, “We design not for how something is going to look, but how we want people to feel.”

Coqodaq. Photo Credit: Jason Varney

Coqodaq. Photo Credit: Jason Varney

The entryway sink at Coqodaq. Photo Credit: Jason Varney

The entryway sink at Coqodaq. Photo Credit: Jason Varney

COQODAQ

“Coqodaq started with the prompt, ‘Let’s build a cathedral for all things fried chicken.’ What is incredible about the owner Simon Kim is his passion for creating a sense of family and togetherness. We worked on the layout together, and most of the seating is either communal or for larger parties. At the entry, a handwashing station greets guests, creating a moment of respite after coming in from the busy street. It prompts an act of self-care and cues up the special moments to come.”

The Secret Garden at the Civilian hotel. Photo credit: Nikolas Koenig

The Secret Garden at Civilian. Photo credit: Nikolas Koenig

A bedroom at the Civilian hotel. Photo credit: Johnny Miller

A bedroom at Civilian. Photo credit: Johnny Miller

CIVILIAN

“Civilian is a hotel in the heart of the Theater District; it was a self-initiated project borne out of my love of theater. I had this idea that we could create a 21st-century clubhouse for people involved in the performing arts as well as outsiders who wanted a peek into that world. We are so proud of the hotel’s Olio Collection, the first-of-its kind curated art program with permanent and rotating works by emerging and established theater creatives and contemporary Broadway photographers. Sketches, models, still photos, and custom furnishings celebrate the theatrical art form throughout the public spaces and guest rooms.” (Civilian is also the hosted international press partner for ICFF.)

NeueHouse. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

NeueHouse Madison Square. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

NeueHouse. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

NeueHouse. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

NeueHouse Madison Square

“I was introduced to the NeueHouse founders by a friend and was really intrigued by their co-working concept. It seemed like an opportunity to develop a new typology that reflects how we work today. It was one of those great opportunities where the client brought us in before there was a program and space. So, as architects, we had a seat at the table in incubating and expanding it. Drawing upon our hospitality experience, we conceived of a shared workspace with an open and flexible layout that empowers its membership of creative entrepreneur to collaborate. A few years later, we had the opportunity also to design NeueHouse Hollywood.”

Nobu Downtown. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

Nobu Downtown. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

A dining nook at Nobu Downtown. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

A dining nook at Nobu Downtown. Photo credit: Eric Laignel

Nobu

“In many ways, Nobu put us on the map and was a defining project for us. Our collaboration with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa began with one small restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. There, we conceived a design concept inspired by Chef Nobu’s innovative cooking and the culture of the Japanese countryside, where the chef was born and raised. Thirty years and many Nobu restaurants and hotels later, we’re still designing Nobu restaurants and more recently, hotels. Bangkok is the brand’s first location in Thailand and largest Nobu restaurant to date.”

Rendering of the Seahorse bar that will be at the refreshed W Hotel in Union Square.

Rendering of the Seahorse bar that will be at the refreshed W Hotel in Union Square.

Rendering of the new entryway that will be at the refreshed W Hotel in Union Square.

Rendering of the new entryway that will be at the refreshed W Hotel in Union Square.

W New York

“Redesigning the W Union Square is a homecoming for us. In 2000, we did the original design for the hotel, which is located diagonally across the park from our offices. This refresh of the space is in alignment with a complete W design concept rebranding commissioned by Marriott and developed by Rockwell Group. It’s a perfect representation of new ideas that carry across everything from the way it looks to the way it will be experienced by the next generation of guests.”