LeAnn Shelton – Rockwell Group
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Julianna Roche
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
Want to dance?
Take a stroll through the lobby of the new Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, which opened in November 2019. Called the Oculus, the 140-foot-wide, multi-story atrium merges music, lighting, theater, technology and architecture to create an immersive experience.
Before you get to the elevators or the casino, the show begins with a multi-story plume of water that jets up from the center of a fountain before cascading back down through auras of blue, red and green. Guests of all ages dance, surrounded by walls of lively videos, ever changing from abstract to nature.
It’s the kind of innovative welcome the Rockwell Group and its experience design studio, the LAB, have specialized in for more than a decade, says LeAnn Shelton, the company’s general counsel and director of business affairs.
“We take our immersive design experience and bring that mindset to other environments,” Shelton says. “The ‘guest experience’ is now a part of the design process for all types of projects, from hospitals, to stores and stadiums. It’s all about the person using the space.”
Verve and color
Based in New York, and founded by the award-winning architect David Rockwell, Rockwell Group’s globe-spanning clientele includes everything from hotels and theaters to cultural facilities to hospitals and schools. With offices in Madrid and Los Angeles, its work includes product lines for companies such as Knoll International and award-winning set designs for Broadway shows that tour the world.
The LAB’s projects go from hotels to holidays, including the Spectacle at MGM Cotai in Macau and Luminaries, which wishes season’s greetings to all at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place in Manhattan.
It’s not just the Oculus that stands out at the Hard Rock. Press that elevator button—only it’s not really an elevator door that opens. Instead, it’s a 3D tour through the history of rock ‘n’ roll including John Lennon’s guitar, steampunk animation and abstract images of rock legends.
“This is a company that prides itself on pushing boundaries,” Shelton says. “We embrace aesthetics and approaches that help set our clients apart from the pack.”
Interactive media is now an established part of Rockwell Group’s repertoire, she adds, and it’s her job to ensure being set apart from the pack also passes local building codes and does not violate intellectual property rights.
As both a licensed attorney and a registered architect, Shelton understands how to frame Rockwell Group’s design approach to meet the clients’ needs and the legal requirements.
It took some fancy legal footwork to make the LAB’s greeting to visitors to the Cosmopolitan to come to life with 384 frameless screens in the lobby. Equipped with LCDs, mirrors and sensors, the video displays came alive with dancers, animated by the movement of anyone passing through.
Shelton drafted the architectural design agreements as well as the contracts for choreographers, dancers and artists who made the show come to life.
With the legal foundations now firmly in place, Shelton remains an early participant in the client-servicing process. She reviews proposals to make sure the scope of work is accurate as well as projects when there are concerns about trademark, copyright and other potential intellectual property issues.
“It starts with the big idea and you take it right through,” Shelton says. “We’re helping the client realize what they want, and it’s important to have the proposal correct because it is the basis of the contract. Sometimes it’s as simple as checking the math.”
Sweating the small stuff
While Rockwell Group specializes in place-making on often grand scales, such as the Nobu Downtown, a 12,000-square-foot restaurant in a landmarked building in lower Manhattan, Shelton’s background as both and architect and attorney are integral in assuring the small details are covered.
“Sometimes my involvement, once the contract is signed, is approving additional services or checking building department applications. I don’t get involved with design decisions,” she says.
There are also times when codes and design decisions merge. At the Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Bar, a three-level lounge that appears to float above the ground floor and is encased by Swarovski crystal filaments. Shelton worked with the design team to determine the right height to safely position the banquettes along the perimeter.
“My goal is to make people aware of safety issues of the larger context, not just simple code compliance,” Shelton says.
In addition to her legal duties—structuring the relationship with clients, handling risk management, protecting intellectual property and product licensing—Shelton is involved with professional organizations including the American Institute of Architects and the Urban Land Institute.
She chairs the American Bar Association’s Arts and Museum Division, and recently integrated the legal and creative disciplines in a panel on Legal Framework of Art, Architecture and Urban Design in a legal symposium in Prague, Czech Republic.
“That was a huge hit. Lawyers love a presentation with pictures. It’s usually just a bunch of citations on a white screen,” Shelton says.
In fact, the artistic side is what emerged first for the Hawaiian-born Shelton, who moved to New York with her family when she was in first grade. Her parents built a modern house in Riverdale and filled it with Saarinen tables and Barcelona chairs. The inspiration for her bedroom was a room in the Miller House by Alexander Girard that she saw in an old issue of House and Garden.
She graduated Amherst College with a double major in history and ancient Greek before earning her J.D. at Columbia Law School. Because she’s as artistic as she is analytical, Shelton returned to Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation to earn her master’s in architecture. She teaches classes on professional practice at Columbia, as well as the New York Institute of Technology.
Before joining Rockwell Group, Shelton was an associate principal at Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn, and an associate partner at Davis Brody Bond.
It was the lure of innovation and legal stewardship that drew her to Rockwell Group.
“We have a ton of creative energy. We’re eclectic and very curious and have redefined what an architecture firm can do,” Shelton says.
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