Cárdenas' Otherworldly Club: Stepin at The MAD Biennial

Rafael de Cárdenas of design studio Architecture at Large was selected out of a pool of nominees from across the city of New York to create an installation representing the diversity of cultural production in the city. Cárdenas, notable for bold geometry and futuristic vision, drew from 80s club culture to construct a temple-like installation for the museum.

Humbly starting in a small office in Chinatown in 2006, Architecture at Large grew with Cárdenas' vision, its imperative to envision the future. Having now taken contracts with clients including NIKE, Barney's, and Nordstrom, Architecture at Large is currently developing projects on three different continents. Shifting focus between commercial interiors, architecture, and even furniture, the invitation to create for MAD's Bienniale is only fitting for this designer-at-large.

The installation centers on four steel columns, Tokyo-esque skyscrapers shrunk to fit inside a room with blue pilot-light beams shooting up their sides. The viewer is drawn into this altar-like space glowing with the neon haze of the 1980s, while red and orange orbs of light glance off the mirrored walls. One cannot help but imagine a nightclub out of neo-noir film Blade Runner's future metropolis, where robots and humans merge into one. Inset in the walls, blue-lit terrariums of succulents and ferns emit an archaic hum.

There is a sense of otherworldly energy in the space, intended to remind the viewer of a temple. Yet this temple exists beyond linear time, merging ancient atmosphere with neon-tinted futurism, organic with technologic. Cárdenas' juxtaposition reminds us that design is always in flux, always contextual, drawing from the preexisting to plunge into the future. The columns, bold lines, and light draw the viewer around the space, and the eye upwards in a kind of continuum. And - fitting for a museum space - you cannot help but feel its transcendent nature.

Photography: Rafael Gamo