The Rockwell Group returned to design an “intimate” 2021 Oscars ceremony

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The Rockwell Group returned to design an “intimate” 2021 Oscars ceremony

Whether you’re in the camp that the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday was a total success, the worst Oscars ever, or have gripes with the limited-edition Chadwick Boseman NFT that went into the gift bags, it’s hard to argue that the conversion of Los Angeles’s historic Union Station into the venue wasn’t well done.

This weekend marked David Rockwell and the Rockwell Group’s third Oscars outing; Rockwell served as production designer for the affair, as he did similarly for the 81st and 82nd award ceremonies in 2010 and 2011, respectively, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood (it’s now the Dolby Theatre).

Of course, with COVID still a concern, the venue was in part chosen for the indoor-outdoor configuration (the pre- and post-show were all filmed on the station’s North Patio) and high ceilings. Inside of the National Register of Historic Places-listed station’s Ticket Concourse, the ceiling (held aloft by steel trusses meant to look like wood) is 63 feet tall and flanked by 40-foot-tall art deco windows.

“It was an honor to design the Oscars ceremony in such a critical year for cultural production,” said David Rockwell in a press release. “People crave shared experiences, especially now, so we tried to create a celebration of the type of communal arts we’ve been missing. The Oscar ceremony is always intimate and grand at the same time, more so this year with Union Station’s soaring details and historic details. We conceived a room within a room that made circulation intuitive, enveloped the audience in an intimate embrace, and also created a space in which the action happens everywhere, not just on stage.”

Exterior of a raised platform patio with blue seating
Outside on the North Patio (Spencer Lowell for Rockwell Group)

Rockwell Group’s interventions were appropriately major. Inside of the ticket hall, the center stage was backed by a massive blue velvet curtain that rose almost to the height of the monumental window behind it, and the use of blue velvet was repeated throughout the hall, from the carpet to the chairs. Semi-circular banquet seating booths were wrapped in woodgrain and rimmed with the same brass also found throughout, and Rockwell Group staggered guests even further by installing descending tiers and turning the hall into something of an amphitheater. Silver display screens were also embedded inside of the railings and capable of changing to display information, including outputting live video of the show.

Outside on the patio, the look was much more boho-chic. Raised teak platforms were installed for a roof deck feel, the trees were wrapped in flowers and lanterns, and outdoor loungers from Roche Bobois, upholstered in cool, zig-zagging blues and aquamarines were used to create a laid-back environment. Monitors were installed across the patio to feed live video of the awards to those outside.

However, even cloistered away in an intimate art-deco (and Mission Revival) train hall, the ceremony’s choice of site wasn’t immune to controversy. Union Station is the largest active rail terminal in the Western U.S., and even though the stop remained open for commuters during the awards, travelers vented their frustrations at Metro officials over the internal track rerouting and street closures around the station. Some riders allege that disabled passengers were made to travel from a half to a quarter of a mile through detours across narrow sidewalks to get to their trains through the station’s eastern entrance.

On top of that, the city forcibly removed a homeless encampment near the station and scattered residents as to not break the glitzy atmosphere. A COVID testing site in the station was also relocated to the back of the building, confusing Angelenos who had come by for an appointment, and ironically, the show was a strictly no-mask affair during a pandemic.