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Rafael de Cárdenas

A renaissance man with an intrinsic sense for color and shape boldly redefines modern interiors

by Meghan Killeen in Design on 10 May 2011

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Rafael de Cárdenas' signature blend of saturated colors and stark geometry turns classic architecture into a common language of striking patterns and eye-popping hues. "Graphics lend themselves to a very immediate reception, which I'm very drawn to," he recently told Cool Hunting. With an impressive roster of diverse projects in his portfolio, de Cárdenas' ability to translate color and form across platforms stems from his varied background, which began in the fashion world. Shortly after graduating from RISD, de Cárdenas worked for Calvin Klein as a menswear designer, but he reflects, "I never explicitly set out to pursue any one thing. I was fairly schizophrenic in my various pursuits as a young boy and teenager. But more importantly, I was interested, and always have been, in moods and generating atmospherics."

While completing a Masters in Architecture at UCLA, de Cárdenas became acquainted with progressive architect and mentor, Greg Lynn—who he later collaborated with on a proposal for the redesign of the World Trade Center, a finalist for its beautiful series of interconnected buildings reminiscent of a cathedral. "Every time I left a meeting with him, I felt like something I'd previously not known was revealed to me. The WTC competition was a dream-team and possibly one of the most awe-inspiring projects ever," he enthuses.

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After working as creative director of experience design at Imaginary Forces, de Cárdenas opened his own design firm called Architecture At Large, where he continues to take "note of the past while daydreaming the future," with projects focused on the conceptual design of residential and commercial interiors. His ingenuity has been the leading force behind customized interiors for celebrities and CEOs alike. He explains, "I don't think about things going or not going. I think if something has an interesting story it will work." For supermodel Jessica Stam, de Cárdenas returned to the referential silverscreen theme of decadence, styling her lavish apartment in monochromatic jewel tones, specially curated eBay finds and vintage wallpaper.

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De Cárdenas' ability to personify spaces is as iconic as it is personal, as encapsulated in his design of Nike's experiential store, Bowery Stadium. Integrating his own interest in running and love of Brazilian culture, de Cárdenas created the space using vertigo-inducing zig zags and illuminated pegboard, accented by yellow and green flooring. De Cárdenas elaborates, "With Brazil as the theme and a soccer field as the visual start, I played with visual ideas of gravity and space through the use of everyday materials. The stadium's disorienting stripes and floating elements are key in bring out a sense of actual play within the sport rather than competition. The aim of the stadium was play for the sake of play. We used pegboard as the unsung hero emblematic of the amateur athlete."

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His brazenly dynamic aesthetic continues to make its mark, appearing at the many OHWOW galleries and concept shops popping up around the world. De Cárdenas cites diversity and atmosphere over set style as the key to artistic longevity, adding "I like to bend the rules of traditional architecture to produce moods and elicit emotional response." This can also be seen in his work for Cape Town's new men's store Unknown Union, where he used a gradient of bold colors and square shelving units to create depth.

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Stepping outside interiors, de Cárdenas recently co-curated an exhibition entitled "New York Minute" with Kathy Grayson, director of NYC's The Hole. The exhibition features fifty New York-based artists and is on view at Moscow's Garage Center for Contemporary Culture through 5 June 2011. He will also debut his first furniture collection, a neon colored homage to Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff, at NYC's Johnson Trading Gallery from 13 May to 25 June 2011.

The Audi Icons series, inspired by the all-new Audi A7, showcases 16 leading figures united by their dedication to innovation and design.

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