Architect Antonino Cardillo’s autobiography with portrait

He who speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthrals and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the idea he is trying to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring. —⁠ ⁠Carl Gustav Jung

Antonino Cardillo, Portrait, 2021

Self portrait, 2021

Antonino Cardillo was born on May 18th 1975 in Erice, Sicily. He studied Architecture at the Università di Palermo from 1993 until 1998, under the guidance of professor Antonietta Iolanda Lima. In the spring of 2002, Cardillo graduated with an architectural project for Trapani Marina. A year later, he published his website www.antoninocardillo.com.1 In the autumn of 2003, he moved to Milan for a year of work experience with the architectural practice Nonis-Maggiore.

In the summer of 2004, Cardillo moved to Rome to study classical antiquities. In the spring of 2007, London-based journalist Gian Luca Amadei invited Cardillo to comment on the state of contemporary architecture for Blueprint magazine.2 Between 2007 and 2011 he designed the world-renowned series Houses for No One, “experimenting with unexpressed valencies of history in a cohesive whole rich in meanings.”3 Sydney-based Matt Hussey of The Cool Hunter said “This new house [Ellipse 1501] designed by Antonino Cardillo has stumped us good and proper.”4 Devyani Jayakar from the Indian magazine Home Review observed “The architecture appears to be the harbinger of an epochal change in Italy’s post imperial design history.”5

In the summer of 2009, Cardillo was selected by Wallpaper* magazine to feature as one of the thirty finest emerging architects.6 A year later he created two timber frame works. His first built residential project, Nomura Koumuten house, was constructed in the Japanese town of Takarazuka;7 and the Sergio Rossi men’s store in the Brera district of Milan was commissioned by Wallpaper* editor-at-large Suzanne Trocmé. Writing about this project, the editor-in-chief Tony Chambers said “Cardillo is one of the most significant architects of our time.”8

In the summer of 2012, an article in Der Spiegel magazine compared Cardillo to Thomas Mann’s literary character Felix Krull, saying:

Cardillo had sent pictures of allegedly built buildings to architectural magazines and given the impression that the houses had actually been built. But these only existed virtually.9

The editorial article, referring to the computer-generated images of the Houses for No One series, prompted divisive debates amongst Italian10 and German11 scholars, professionals and journalists about contemporary representations of architecture.

Meanwhile, in Rome in the autumn of 2012, Cardillo began the construction of his landmark House of Dust for Massimiliano Beffa. In this work, Cardillo lent classical form to the space, reintroducing the themes of the Grotto and the Arch to present-day architecture. It was featured internationally: by Amy Frearson of Dezeen;12 then in the Phaidon volume ROOM, as one of the world’s most exceptional works of interior architecture;13 and at the XXI Triennale di Milano as one of the fifty works recounting the history of Italian interior architecture. According to Beppe Finessi, the curator of the latter, it was “a project destined to become a landmark.”14 House of Dust showcased Cardillo’s work globally and became his manifesto. Cardillo expanded on the vault-cave-grotto theme in the Financial Times magazine:

The vault is the place where the architecture ‘happens’. It possesses an archetypal and sacred value. It goes back to the primary meaning of architecture, which is the protection of the cave, but also to its spiritual meaning, because every ‘vault’ is also the transfiguration of the sky in stone.15

In the autumn of 2013, Cardillo moved to London, published a text in the AA School publication Fulcrum16 and spent a formative time with the teacher Ana Araujo. In 2014, she wrote “Cardillo’s architecture promotes the sensorial mobilisation envisioned by [Walter] Benjamin as a potential force for social/political transformation.”17 Back in Rome, in the spring of that year, Cardillo created Crepuscular Green, a work built for the Mondrian Suite art gallery in San Lorenzo district. Alice Morby of Dezeen wrote the headline “Antonino Cardillo bases textured all-green gallery interior on Wagner opera.”18 In October of the same year, Cardillo exhibited Min, a series of seven sculptures which relate the Arch to the Phallus, at London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum.19

In the autumn of 2015, Cardillo moved back to his hometown Trapani to pursue the idea of bridging the anthropology and archeology of the island of Sicily to the architecture of the present. During this time he continued to work in London via Suzanne Trocmé, constructing the interior of Illuminum’s Mayfair store Colour as a Narrative at 41 Dover Street. Anna Winston of Dezeen called it “A multi-sensory space for experiencing and buying fragrance.”20

In the summer of 2016, Cardillo completed construction of Specus Corallii, the oratorio of Trapani Cathedral, commissioned by the chief priest Gaspare Gruppuso. Jean-Marie Martin from Francesco Dal Co magazine Casabella notices: “Antonino Cardillo, an architect who deservedly earned the attention of international critics, has created a space similar to a telescope aimed at the past of the place.”21 The work is the fourth in the series of Grottoes which, according to Melbourne-based journalist Annie Carroll, “are some of the most influential interiors of recent times.”22

In the same year, Berlin-based journalist Jeanette Kunsmann of BauNetz-Designlines observed:

If contemporary architecture mainly consists of solid concrete walls or opens up to the city with glass facades, Cardillo primarily shapes his personal style in rooms with symmetry, stucco and structure.23

A few months later, Jeanette Kunsmann and Stephen Burkoff journeyed to Italy to visit Cardillo’s architectural works in Rome and Trapani, spending three days with the architect. Their investigation became the DEAR magazine cover story ‘Architecture and truth’.

Cardillo has neither a fixed office address, nor even an office in the classic sense. And he has no employees: the Sicilian designs and plans all his projects alone. […] One might, therefore, suppose that Cardillo is one of a number of minor, lesser-known architects. But that isn’t the case. Very few architects outside the three superstars of the industry (Libeskind, Hadid and Koolhaas) have attracted as much attention from the international press and trade magazines as Antonino Cardillo.24

In the summer of 2018, Cardillo completed the construction of the nightclub Off Club in Rome, commissioned by the former footballers Matteo Di Persio and Francesco Curcio. Suzanne Trocmé unveiled it, saying, “A long-time Wallpaper* collaborator, Antonino Cardillo’s latest oeuvre marks a defining moment for the Sicilian architect.”25 Sight Unseen co-founder defined Off Club as “his latest masterpiece.”26 Tim Berge of DEAR Magazin added: “Cardillo manages to involve the user physically and psychologically in his world of thought like no other.”27 Lucia Galli from Paolo Portoghesi magazine Abitare la Terra noted: “If truth be told, his ability to turn a game of illusion into reality is one of the triggers that set Cardillo on a path to success.”28

In the spring of 2021 Cardillo completed the construction of the embarcadero bar Mammacaura, overlooking the Phoenician island of Motya off the west coast of Sicily.29

Text editing: Daniel Edwards


1. Antonino Cardillo, ‘www.antoninocardillo.com’, web.archive.org, San Francisco, 22 Aug. 2003.
2. Antonino Cardillo, ‘Comment’, Blueprint, no. 256, London, July 2007, p. 58.
3. Vertica Dvivedi, ‘Romance with space’, Surfaces Reporter, New Delhi, June 2011, p. 38.
4. Matt Hussey, ‘Ellipse 1501 House’, thecoolhunter.net, Sydney, 5 July 2007.
5. Devyani Jayakar, ‘Celestial vision’, Home Review, no. 6/5, Mumbai, Sept. 2007, p. 58.
6. Jonathan Bell, Ellie Stathaki, ‘Architects directory 2009’, Wallpaper*, no. 125, London, Aug. 2009, p. 81.
7. Massimo Locci, ‘Sperimentazioni di Antonino Cardillo’, L’Architetto Italiano, no. 42, Rome, Apr. 2011, p. 32.
8. Tony Chambers, Men’s footwear world tour [media release], Milan, March 2010, p. 1.
9. Susanne Beyer, ‘Hochstapler: Römische Ruinen’, Der Spiegel, no. 27/12, Hamburg, 2 July 2012, p. 3.
10. Nicola Bozzi, ‘L’uomo che amava i rendering’, Studio, Milan, 20 July 2012.
11. Carl Zillich, with Fabrizio Gallanti, Lars Krückeberg, Volkwin Marg, Wolfram Putz, Peter Reischer, Andreas Ruby, Tobias Walliser, Thomas Willemeit, ‘Causa Cardillo: Geht’s noch ohne Hochstapelei?’, bkult.de, Berlin, 10 Sept. 2012.
12. Amy Frearson, ‘House of Dust by Antonino Cardillo’, dezeen.com, London, 5 Aug. 2013.
13. Nacho Alegre, ‘House of Dust’, in Room: Inside Contemporary Interiors, Phaidon, London, Oct. 2014, p. 64.
14. Beppe Finessi, ‘Storie di altre stanze’, in Stanze: Altre Filosofie dell’Abitare, exhib. cat., ed. Beppe Finessi, Marsilio, Milan, Sept. 2016, p. 283.
15. Jenny Dalton, ‘Decorative ceilings’, How to Spend It, Financial Times, London, March 2014, p. 71.
16. Antonino Cardillo, ‘Architecture as entertainment’, Fulcrum, no. 77, AA School Press, London, 18 Nov. 2013, p. 1.
17. Ana Araujo, ‘Feeling through sight: zooming in, zooming out’, The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 1, RIBA, London, Jan. 2014, p. 15.
18. Alice Morby, ‘Antonino Cardillo bases textured all-green gallery interior on Wagner opera’, dezeen.com, London, 17 Apr. 2017.
19. Maxwell Blowfield, Space and Light [media release], Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 7 Aug. 2014.
20. Anna Winston, ‘Antonino Cardillo combines scent and texture for Illuminum Fragrance shop interior’, dezeen.com, London, 6 May 2015.
21. Jean-Marie Martin, ‘Evocazione, astrazione, illusione — Sala Laurentina, Cattedrale di Trapani, Sicilia’, Casabella, no. 879, Milan, Nov. 2017, p. 30.
22. Annie Carroll, ‘Our top three favourite works by architect Antonino Cardillo’, anniecarrollwrites.com, Melbourne, 23 Nov. 2018.
23. Jeanette Kunsmann, ‘Architektur als Rausch’, designlines.de, BauNetz, Berlin, 29 Nov. 2016.
24. Jeanette Kunsmann, Stephan Burkoff, ‘Architektur und Wahrheit’, DEAR Magazin, no. 1, Berlin, Apr. 2017, p. 68.
25. Suzanne Trocmé, ‘Roman empire: Off Club’, wallpaper.com, London, 17 Sept. 2018.
26. Monica Khemsurov, ‘Saturday selects: week of September 17, 2018’, sightunseen.com, New York, 22 Sept. 2018.
27. Tim Berge, ‘Die Symmetrie der Nacht: Restaurant in Rom’, DEAR Magazin, no. 4/18, Berlin, Dec. 2018, p. 35.
28. Lucia Galli, ‘Off Club’, Abitare la Terra, no. 49, Rome, June 2019, p. 38.
29. Antonino Cardillo, ‘Mammacaura: where you sit’, Casabella, no. 925, Milan, Sept. 2021, pp. 10‑17.