Themed Book Lists

10 Books on Set and Theater Design

December 23, 2014

Here are 10 books on set and theater design from our contributors, inspired by our Book List of the Week from David Rockwell.


Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza, Italy. Palladio was inspired by the amphitheaters of antiquity, with a triumphal arch serving as a stage wall. From The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World © Abrams, 2013. Photo © Guillaume de Laubier
Behind the Scenes Phoebe Adler

From the Publisher. Behind the Scenes: Contemporary Set Design is a highly visual review of set design for the theatre and opera. The book includes the imaginative and groundbreaking work of designers including Robert Wilson, Boris Kudlicka, Les Brotherston, Miriam Buether, Chloe Lamford, Sam Trubridge and Rae Smith; and theatre companies such as The Builder's Association, Clod Ensemble, Hotel Pro Forma, Ex-Machina, Station House Opera and Punch Drunk. International in scope, the book includes stunning images of productions from theatres and arenas across the globe, including BAM Brooklyn, London's National Theatre, the Salzburg Festival and the Prague Quadrennial. Behind the Scenes provides an understanding of theatre design and its methods that appeals to beginners and enthusiasts, alongside students and theatre professionals alike.

Joseph Urban John Loring

From the Publisher. Joseph Urban is a lavish celebration of this prolific artist, architect, and designer, whose accomplishments include magnificent Art Deco buildings, spectacular Ziegfeld Follies productions, and dramatic sets for the Metropolitan Opera. Joseph Urban (1872–1933) began his career as an architect and artist in Vienna before moving to America in 1911. In 1914 he moved to New York, where he ultimately signed on as set designer of the Metropolitan Opera. He also became immersed in an astonishing array of outside projects, designing nightclubs, hotel lounges, skyscrapers, theaters, stage and film sets, and even children’s books. Though his creative output was immense, little remains of his work except the Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, and the New School and the base of the Hearst Tower in New York.

Making the Scene Oscar Brockett et al.

A history of theatrical stage design from ancient Greek times to the present.

The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World Photographs by Guillaume de Laubier
Text by Antoine Pecqueur

From the Publisher. Opera houses—temples to the art of Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and more—have been created by some of the most talented architects and designers of their generations, inspiring centuries of veneration from audiences, filled with royalty and commoners alike. In this sumptuous book, photographer Guillaume de Laubier and journalist Antoine Pecqueur explore more than 25 of the world’s most beautiful opera houses, from Tokyo to Covent Garden, from Oslo to Chicago, from Milan to New York. The buildings are described in their historical contexts, while stunning photography reveals the theaters’ most captivating spaces. In addition to offering sweeping views of ornate auditoriums and facades, the book opens doors normally closed to the public, entering the artists’ dressing rooms, rehearsal halls, scenery workshops, and more, presenting a wide-ranging and compelling look into a spectacular world.

Norman Bel Geddes Designs America Donald Albrecht Editor
The Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin
The Museum of the City of New York

From the Publisher. Norman Bel Geddes Designs America accompanies a landmark exhibition exploring the career of Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958), one of the 20th century’s foremost theatrical and industrial designers. This companion volume explores Bel Geddes’s life and career in comprehensive detail through nearly 100 projects, ranging from streamlined airplanes, ships, and cars, to stage sets, appliances, and much more. Both the exhibition and the book bring together never-before-seen drawings, models, photographs, and films drawn from the Ransom Center’s Bel Geddes collection. He is perhaps best known for his Futurama display for the General Motors Highways and Horizons exhibit at the New York World’s Fair of 1939–40, which to this day remains a useful model for city planning and design. The exhibition is curated by Donald Albrecht, who contributed the book’s introduction and serves as its editor. In addition to Albrecht, who has written the introduction, twenty scholars have contributed essays. The exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America opened in September 2012 at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, and will travel to the Museum of the City of New York.

Rockefeller Center: Architecture as Theater Alan Balfour

During the Great Depression a band of visionaries created a monument to the American dream: Rockefeller Center. In this book, Alan Balfour takes you behind the scenes of the planning and construction of the great metropolitan complex whose influence is still felt by architects, designers, engineers, and urban planners throughout the world. He explores the complex personalities of those who made Rockefeller Center the 20th century’s proudest achievement in American architecture.

Site and Sound Victoria Newhouse

From the Publisher. Victoria Newhouse, noted author and architectural historian, addresses the aesthetics and acoustics in concert halls and opera houses of the past, present, and future in this stunning companion to the highly regarded Towards a New Museum. Site and Sound explores the daunting, perennial question: Does the music serve the space, or the other way around?

Heavily illustrated throughout—with historic images, spectular color photographs, detailed drawings—this volume is an informed and enjoyable presentation of a building type that is at the heart of cities small and large.

Newhouse starts with a survey of venues from ancient Greek and Roman times and progresses to contemporary works around the world. She singles out Lincoln Center in particular for its long history and its transitions and remodelings over the years. Two major chapters cover the present: one focuses on recent work in the West, including the National Opera House of Norway in Oslo by Snøhetta (2008), the Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal, by Rem Koolhaas (2005), and many more; the second examines the boom in concert halls in China. A final chapter looks at projects that are currently planned and the future of an architecture for music.

Read Author Q&A on Designers & Books.

The Theater Art of Boris Aronson Frank Rich

A pictorial record of Boris Aronson’s achievements, which include the stage design of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, Follies, and other works of musical theater.

Theater of Architecture Hugh Hardy

From the Publisher. Architect Hugh Hardy is the quintessential New Yorker. His irrepressible love of the city animates all of his work, and can be found in many of the city’s most beloved institutions.This book gathers 20 of Hardy’s projects, both within New York City and beyond its borders, to frame a candid discussion about the collaborations, challenges, and strategies that gave rise to each project’s design. It illuminates the combination of all factors that create memorable architecture.

View Q&A with Hugh Hardy.

What If...?: The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell Chee Pearlman Editor
Text by David Rockwell et al.

Widely admired for his sophistication, creativity and exuberance, David Rockwell is one of the leading architects, interiors architects, and set designers working today. For over 30 years, he has explored his desire to imagine new worlds, to tell stories and to engage with others. This interest is rooted in his sense of play and possibility—an endless curiosity that continually drives him to ask, “What if?” What if you could step inside a crystal goblet? What if your environment transformed with every step? What if a restaurant could vanish at a moment's notice? What if your ultimate escapist fantasy was real?

What If…? presents a wide array of Rockwell's brilliant explorations of the rich intersection between architecture and theater. Through immersive imagery and behind-the-scenes details, Rockwell introduces readers to 35 projects, from initial driving idea through physical realization. Works include the famed Nobu Fifty Seven and the newcomer TAO Downtown in New York, the W Paris Opéra, the West Lobby at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and the newly opened TED Theater in Vancouver; set designs for the Academy Awards, Kinky Boots and Hairspray; the Hall of Fragments at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale and Jamie Oliver's traveling teaching kitchen, the Food Revolution truck. Engaging texts by Tony Award-winning playwright and screenplay writer John Guare, Tony Award-winning director and producer Jack O'Brien and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Justin Davidson--written specially for this publication--and a conversation between Rockwell and acclaimed architect Elizabeth Diller round out this spectacular, celebratory volume.

David Rockwell (born 1956) is an American architect and designer. He is founder and president of Rockwell Group, an award-winning, cross-disciplinary architecture and design practice based in New York City, with satellite offices in Madrid and Shanghai, that has been named as one of Fast Company's most innovative design practices.

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