Rockwell Group reimagines dining after Covid-19

New York architect David Rockwell and his Rockwell Group team reimagine dining for New York's restaurants and bars as pandemic restrictions start to be eased

Words by FX Magazine
All images from Rockwell Group

As pandemic restrictions are being eased around the globe, the question of resuming life-as-normal is still a long way off for those in the hospitality industry. Looking to ease the transition back into operation for a sector heavily hit by lockdown measures, there are a number of solutions being proposed by designers to allow restaurants and bars to reopen safely while respecting social distancing measures. 

One such designer is the US-based architecture and design practice, the Rockwell Group, which has drawn up some practical solutions for New York’s restaurants and bars. 

Working with a hospitality industry not-for-profit, the NYC Hospitality Alliance (NHA), Rockwell Group set up test-studies for socially-distanced dining solutions for the city. Rockwell worked with some NHA member restaurants, including Melba’s in Harlem, the restaurant of NHA president, Melba Wilson. 

Following an extended period of closure businesses are under increased financial pressure and will need expanded capacity in order to operate affordably. With estimations suggesting that restaurants will be able to accommodate only 50 per cent of their usual customers, the plans by Rockwell utilise outside spaces including adjoining pavements and streets recently closed to traffic in New York's ‘Open Streets’ initiative. 

David Rockwell, founder and president of the Rockwell group said: 'There is no single solution to the current challenge faced by restaurants, though, how we utilize public space is essential to the industry's immediate relief in New York City and globally.' 

'Our kit-of-parts formula extends a restaurant’s interior dining space, with minimal or more complex interventions, to sidewalks and beyond. This intersection of streets and sidewalks – even the centre lanes of avenues, in some cases – offers a range of outdoor dining experiences, accommodating the many restaurants that are so vital to communities.' 

While Rockwell Group is known for high-end hospitality work, including the recently-opened Peak restaurant at 30 Hudson Yards, and this Bali dayclub and restaurant, the team was able to apply its experience to create an affordable, easily-constructed and scalable model, available to interested businesses.

‘Looking at other projects across the country and in other countries, and drawing on our modular work, including Imagination Playground and the TED Theater, and our vast experience designing restaurants, we’ve developed a collection of adaptable kits that will allow for expanded dining and sanitizing/health stations that fit into the sidewalk and part of the abutting streetscape’, Rockwell explains.

The practice’s 'kit of parts' includes base modules, services and sanitation elements, using easily sourced elements such as decking and fencing. There are five scales of intervention from minimal to complex suited for restaurants and bars of different type, size or location. The project is currently entering a test phase, but if successful could be rolled out more widely, subject to individual city permits.  


Case Study One: Melba's, Harlem


Case Study Two: Vinum Clifton, Staten Island

Case Study Three: Negril BK, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Case Study Four: The Gully NYC, Astoria, Queens

Case Study FIve: Avenue Typology, The Bronx

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