Listen to this article
Architect and interior designer David Rockwell, 57, has won numerous awards, including the Presidential Design Award for his renovation of New York’s Grand Central Station. His studio is also known for its theatre sets.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be a concert pianist. My dad played, my mom was a dancer. I loved the piano.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
State, then private. We moved from the Jersey Shore to Guadalajara, Mexico, when I was 12 and I went to the American School of Guadalajara, a private school. Then Syracuse University and the Architectural Association in London.
Who was your mentor?
My mother Joanne. She introduced me to live theatre, which has been a huge influence on all of my work.
How physically fit are you?
This year we did four Broadway shows while running the firm and I’ve got two young kids, so I need energy. I go to the gym five days a week and we just got a city bike programme in New York – it’s miraculous.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
It’s curiosity that matters.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I have not.
How politically committed are you?
I am most committed in areas where I can make a difference as a maker. For example, our portable playgrounds. These began as a post-9/11 response in Lower Manhattan but we now have 850 playgrounds in the world, 30 in Haiti and Bangladesh. Architects have choices about how they spend their time.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
There are areas where I believe we can create a unique contribution; I’ve realised many buildings are better portable. We’re creating a portable theatre for the TED conference and portable classrooms for Cornell University. Those are projects that tread very lightly on the earth.
Do you have more than one home?
An apartment in Manhattan and a weekend house in upstate New York.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A Steinway concert grand piano – and a space big enough to put it in.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I have a very extensive kaleidoscope collection. I recently acquired the Fountain of Aah’s, a 60-pound freestanding kaleidoscope that uses water and pebbles.
In what place are you happiest?
In a state of invention where I’m creating something new.
What ambitions do you still have?
The stadium is ripe for reinvention. They’re huge buildings and they tend to be used for maybe 10, 12, 15 events a year. If you could merge a park into a stadium you’d get a whole new use. It’s a project I covet.
What drives you on?
The drive to create.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
My two kids, Sam and Lola.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I wanted to design the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would be amazed there was a way to turn things that he loved playing with into a career.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
As long as I didn’t lose the drive to create, I would figure it out.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I don’t think we should be forced to suffer unnecessarily.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I’m living my life as if there isn’t.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Nine. It gets to 10 when I have grandkids.