Shape-shifter: Radical Rafael de Cardenas is at large

Updated 17th August 2015
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Shape-shifter: Radical Rafael de Cardenas is at large
Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN
Since founding his multidisciplinary practice almost ten years ago, New York-based designer and architect Rafael de Cardenas has been at the creative helm of a multitude of projects from commissions by Cartier and Nike to jeweler Delfina Delettrez and Manhattan restaurant Asia de Cuba.
Known for his bold, geometric and luxurious designs, Cardenas began his career in fashion, working for Calvin Klein before moving into production design and finally founding Architecture at Large in 2006. CNN speaks to Cardenas about Mad Max, his dream project, and Caitlyn Jenner.

Good design is...

Transcendent in the least distracting way.

What's the most moving or powerful exhibition, piece of art or film you've seen recently?

Colin Gibson's production design in Mad Max, Fury Road is exceedingly beautiful and directional. I think the film will be referenced in the future as a Hollywood blockbuster-cum-cult classic much like BladeRunner remains so. Within its extremely violent post-apocalyptic setting, there is a lot of romanticism in the details.
I recently also visited the Schaulager Museum in Basel and was very impressed by Emmanuelle Hoffman's collection, specifically the Robert Gober permanent installation.

What's on your bedside table?

Lawrence Wright's Going Clear, the Scientology tell-all that the HBO documentary is based on, and James Salter's Burning the Days, which is his own autobiography of sorts, recollecting diverse experiences from his own life and the fictional stories those moments inspired.

To what or to whom do you owe your success?

My parents, for spoiling me with experiences and pushing me to always think as aggressively as possible.

What is your current obsession?

Caitlyn Jenner and how she's ushered in a liberal and new way of thinking with the use of her celebrity.
Caitlyn Jenner accepts Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Caitlyn Jenner accepts Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

If given the opportunity, what building or space would you like to redesign?

I wouldn't necessarily want to redesign an existing classic like Radio City Music Hall or The Four Seasons Restaurant, but refreshing or updating the design would certainly be an interesting and delicate thing to consider. Perhaps even more exciting would be to reconsider outmoded forms of retail and determine how best to use spaces like the American shopping mall.

Who is your rising star within the creative sector?

Robert Storey is one of the most talented set designers and art directors working today. His highly conceptual, sculptural aesthetic is shaping the future of set design.

What's your dream project?

A hotel! Our interior projects typically start with writing a fantasy script for the client. I determine what the narrative would be, the soundtrack, set design, etc., and as the project gets more and more real, the fantasy aspect is already embedded in the design's DNA. It's especially exciting to consider within the scale and nature of a hotel, which exists as an elevation and embodiment of a particular lifestyle.

What building should everyone stand in at least once before they die?

The Bradbury building in downtown LA.