The Kenzo store in Seoul was designed by de Cárdenas.
Photo: Pilmo Kang

Rafael de Cárdenas

No two projects have been the same for the Architecture at Large founder
Rafael de Cárdenas. Photo: Landon Speers

No two projects have been the same for Rafael de Cárdenas, who founded Architecture at Large in 2006. Take, for example, his 1980s reimagination of New York hot spot Asia de Cuba, Nike’s invitation-only gym at its New York headquarters, or his eye-popping graphic maze at Cadillac House. “One day you’re working on a house in the Pacific Northwest and the next a store in Asia,” explains De Cárdenas, “and you just can’t apply the same rules.”

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To blur the lines between art installation and commercial space, he pulls from his vast multidisciplinary background—which ranges from menswear designer at Calvin Klein to creative director at a special-effects house—and encourages his team to “explore their desires.” His private residential work is equally luxurious but always inflected with an imaginative twist—a patterned ceiling, an art-installation stairwell, or an elaborate double-slide pool.

Source of inspiration: “I look through old magazines, especially Vogue Decoración from the early ’80s. Everything is so French and not overdone.”

A pool pavilion Architecture at Large designed for an English countryside estate. Photo: Courtesy of Rafael de Cárdenas Architecture at Large

Amazing feat: “For the Kenzo façade in Korea, we proposed something no one has done before: We covered it with 862 green, three-dimensional plastic cones that resemble a tailor’s spool of yarn. The building is stone, so we had to create a removable structure that could anchor it.”

The Kenzo store in Seoul. Photo: Pilmo Kang

Up next: “We’re rolling out our pop-up store, Double Macchiato, in New York after its success in Paris; designing a hotel in a run-down 19th-century villa in Italy; and working on a few yachts for clients.”

A detail of the green plastic cones that adorn the façade of the Kenzo boutique in Seoul. Photo: Pilmo Kang

Our style: “I don’t think we have a style. I want every project to be an opportunity to do something new. Clients can tell I’m excited.”

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2019 Spring Issue under the headline Creative Minds. Subscribe to the magazine.

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