About Sunday’s Oscars Ceremony Set Design

Architect David Rockwell designed the sets for last night’s Oscars ceremony within LA’s art deco Union Station to reflect the feeling of past Academy Awards nights. He transformed Union Station’s main ticket hall into the main venue for the 93rd Academy Awards main ceremony, which was delayed by two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The set this year was inspired by the first Oscar ceremony in 1929, a more ore low-key affair for an audience of about 270 guests at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Tickets were just $5. “The concept was really a very simple but beautiful dinner party,” says Rockwell. “In some ways, we had an invitation to return to that kind of intimacy, and that kind of connection.”

The very first Oscar ceremony was held in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Rockwell Group wanted to emulate the flower-filled room and dinner party atmosphere in its design for the 93rd Academy Awards.

But creating intimacy in Union Station’s vast landmarked concourse (an amalgam of Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne influences concocted by father-and-son architect duo John and Donald Parkinson in 1939) is no easy task. Rockwell’s strategy was to create a “room within a room.” The banquette-dotted amphitheater surrounds a “very simple but quite beautiful” mahogany stage.

Inspired by Art Deco gates fronting historic Los Angeles buildings, the design team devised a permeable, platinum-colored screen to define the ceremony area, while not obscuring the station’s eccentric 20th-century architecture. “We wanted our installation to feel like a piece of the room, but at the same time we wanted to be clear what’s new and what’s old,” Rockwell explains.

  Inside Union Station Los Angeles, where the main show took place. In its “room within a room” design, Rockwell Group sought to celebrate the concourse’s historic architecture.

The set had to work harder than usual, as the building’s landmark status didn’t allow lighting and speaker systems to be suspended from the ceiling. The clever solution? Oscar-themed shaded lamps at each banquette provide enough localized lighting to illuminate the nominees’ faces, while speakers embedded into the tables will transmit sound. “We put a lot of love into those,” Rockwell says of the lamps, just one of many bespoke elements the studio designed specially for the ceremony. “There is something about [a table] centerpiece drawing people together.”

Custom tables and chairs were installed in the ticket hall to create a curved multi-layered seating area facing a circular wooden thrust stage.

The spaced-out seating was designed so that attendees could remain in small groups in order to minimise unnecessary mixing in line with social distancing measures. Many presenters also spoke from their respective tables.

On the lower tiers, intimate wooden banquettes and individual chairs were lined with plush blue velvet and finished with elegant silver rails. Each table featured a small lamp decorated with gold Oscars statuettes.

Oversized draped curtains matching the seating’s upholstery defined the stage’s backdrop, which was flanked by a pair of geometric screens that showed the event

David Rockwell’s “intimate and grand” Oscars set recalls glamour of early ceremonies

Outside, the station’s lawn was transformed into a floral fantasia for the pre- and postshow. This party zone was inspired, once again, by that first Oscar ceremony, but also by Maxfield Parrish’s vivid 1918 painting The Garden of AllahA series of elevated teak decks will protect the landscape (and ensure no one’s Manolo Blahniks sink into the grass), while jacaranda trees will be festooned with lanterns amid floating pallets of roses, orchids, hydrangeas, poppies, and carnations.

Lounge areas featuring cozy light green and blue Roche Bobois outdoor furniture upholstered in Missoni fabric were laid out underneath trees laden with lanterns and clusters of flowers.

Open to attendees throughout the ceremony, monitors were placed at regular intervals across the patio in order to live stream the events happening inside.

We cannot wait to visit Union Station soon.

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