American architect and designer David Rockwell designed the set for the 2021 Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles.

The awards took place at LA’s Art Deco Union Station, an iconic hollywood venue that has been used as the backdrop for movies such as Blade Runner, The Dark Knight Rises and Pearl Harbor. Rockwell’s design for Steven Soderbergh’s intimate Academy Awards ceremony transformed the venue into ‘an indoor/outdoor supper club’ for nominees and their guests, a design referencing ‘the intimacy and understated elegance of the Academy’s very first ceremonies.’

Oscars 2021: discover the David Rockwell-designed set

Oscar set design by David Rockwell

The Oscars set design featured four separate spaces taking over the station’s Ticket Concourse, Waiting Room, as well is its North and South Patios. The design concept for the Oscars set offered a nod to the early awards ceremonies, which were often staged as seated dinners inside some of LA’s most iconic ballrooms.

This was Rockwell’s third Oscar set design, following his collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 81st and 82nd Oscars at the Rockwell Group-designed Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

The eclectic set design was defined by a rich material palette featuring wood, metallic touches, saturated colours and textures, which came together to celebrate the building’s Art Nouveau architecture. Integrated technology throughout the space brought the old school Hollywood set into modern times and gave it added flexibility.

Throughout the set, Rockwell created a series of custom-designed café tables and chairs placed on the multi-tiered seating balconies, with custom-built wooden banquettes in blue velvet for the lower, stage-facing seats. Oscar-inspired lamps offered illumination throughout the set and functioned as centrepieces for the bistro-style tables. 

Oscar set design by David Rockwell

The room was framed with a series of art-deco inspired screens, installed along a raised promenade and equipped with a series of live picture frames exhibiting historical photographs from past Oscar ceremonies (during the ceremony, these screens also delivered live content that mirrored what appeared on the main screens onstage to give an immersive experience).

The Oscars stage this year featured a circular podium in rich, inlaid wood with an asymmetric tiered design for accessibility. Two screens flanking the stage featured the same art deco motif found at the back. Completing and anchoring the stage was a blue velvet drape with oversized matching tassels.

Oscar set design by David Rockwell

Finally, Union Station’s North Courtyard served as a pre- and post-show breakout area, featuring multi-tiered teak decking and a distinctive outdoors feeling. The space’s summery design included a DJ booth, a piano, working bars, and lounge fitted with Roche Bobois outdoor furniture upholstered in Missoni fabric.

‘It was an honor to design the Oscars ceremony in such a critical year for cultural production, said Rockwell. ‘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 created a space in which the action happens everywhere, not just on stage.’ §