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All The Grit Behind Glitz And The Glamor Of The 93rd Academy Awards’ Set Design

Pandemic rules and restrictions challenged architect David Rockwell and his team to design one for the books


This past year has been all about adaptability, hasn’t it?  It comes as no surprise that even the design process for the set of the 93rd Academy Awards had to undergo considerable thinking.  For this, the Academy enlisted American architect David Rockwell (who also designed the 2008 and 2008 Oscars sets), renowned for his stage, hospitality and F & B projects all over the world.  Of late, Rockwell proposed the design for Dine Out New York in response to the pandemic.  








No stranger to theater, Rockwell's mother was a vaudeville dancer and choreographer who cast him in some performances in his younger years.  His interest in captivating environments was further honed by his family's move to Mexico when he was twelve.  It was in this country where he discovered the cacophony of market scenes, and its streets, teeming with life.  


A wealth of designs for the theater, hotels and restaurants later, his team is also currently the creative brain behind Open Stage New York, an effort to help performances and live theater shift to outdoor performances in light of the pandemic.  Both efforts reclaim the vitality of outdoor spaces, utilizing outdoor spaces in order to reclaim the communities and industries that have been severely impacted by the pandemic.







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Designing The 93rd Academy Awards


The Academy Awards has always been an event that celebrates the joys and triumphs of cinema, as well as the many men and women and their efforts to produce the best of their medium.  So how does one project jubilation and victory in the midst of a pandemic?  There was no stopping Rockwell and his group from bringing the theme of the event, “Bring Your Movie Love” to life.  The answer, for them, was to look beyond the solutions that have been utilized in the past.  “We started from scratch, asking how do we create a way to have this be smaller, have it be about the nominees, and invite the TV audience into a chance to celebrate this very creative, vital world of telling stories,” Rockwell tells Town and Country.


Rockwell dug into the history of the Oscars for inspiration.  “I thought a lot about the first Academy Awards celebrations in the ballrooms of the great L.A. hotels—the Hollywood Roosevelt, the Biltmore, the Ambassador. They all had a simple, understated elegance and an intimacy that feel right for the moment we’re in,” Rockwell says in an Architectural Digest article. 







The Waiting Room at the Union Station, pre-David Rockwell transformation for the 93rd Academy Awards. | @paperweight.inc


The team chose the historical LA Union Station for the main awards show.  A mash up of Art Deco, California Mission and Streamline Moderne, the building’s impressive historical details became the counterpoint for interaction with Rockwell’s design moves for the Academy Awards set design.  Unable to intervene with the walls and ceilings of the building, the team devised a “room within a room” strategy wherein they constructed a whole amphitheater within the Union Station.  In order to comply with the lighting and sound restrictions of the building, Rockwell brought in custom-made lighting fixtures and speakers to each banquette, a veritable “pod” that allows for social distancing, if you will. “The lamps give off a sense of candlelight, and everybody looks good in the candlelight,” Rockwell says.  Other elements that convey understated glamour are the chocolate and blue color scheme, the platinum railings which referenced art deco details found in LA homes of the past, and backlit mica panels.  











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Pre-and post-Academy Awards activities were held in courtyards designed to feel like a fantasy lit by lanterns, outfitted in plush Mah Jong lounge chairs by Roche Bobois, and given life by Jacaranda trees as well as a profusion of hanging floral arrangements.   “We set the scene to allow for spontaneous moments and surprises throughout the evening. After all the Zooming we’ve done since the lockdown started, after all the attempts we’ve made to figure out how to celebrate remotely, this event is going to feel personal and alive,” Rockwell says.  







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