We went to a Roman house located in the Ludovisi District, in Via Piemonte, in view of the Aurelian Walls. A house that was visited during the open museums, designed by an architect, Antonino Cardillo, whom we met to let us tell this house, but also its history. A story a bit hovering between architecture and conceptual art.
— The house is an allusion to dust, precisely it is called House of Dust. The starting point was the idea of creating a bourgeois house that contained familiar and even trivial elements in which the user can find a recognition. And yet at the same time, in this recognisability there is something that destabilises. The most obvious element is the sky of public space built from an earth-coloured rusticated plaster. It is an allusion to the grotesque Renaissance, the idea of primordial caves and the beginnings. The idea of dust is an architecture manifesto. It is the idea of an architecture that is built on layers. That on the layer builds its structure, its complexity and that also gives possibility to the user, who is also the one who imagines space through the media, to build his interpretation. The house contains elements that are contradictory to each other. Like this line of light on the ground, which could be read as a reference to an imaginary sci-fi. But it is contradicted by the ceiling, which instead alludes to something vernacular or archaic. This aspect is evident when you enter the house, the space in which we find ourselves. Here are three arches marked on a concrete wall, a reference to Alice in Wonderland. The house, therefore, has six arches in the living room. Each of these arches leads or does not lead. What may seem obvious, namely that they can lead to other spaces, is instead contradicted by a coup de théâtre, whereby access to the kitchen is through a secret passage.
— In fact it was not any of those arches because a wall opened!
— This theatrical aspect raises attention. And it is important to be able to do this in a small space. It is like wanting to say: architecture is not dead. It does not need towers, skyscrapers, spaces and giant palaces to express its historical continuity. Architecture is also made up of small aspects that are musical, literary, like these series of arches that creates betrayed expectations. Each element that adorns the space resonates with other places in the dwelling. For example, one of these arches is adorned with a pink glass sphere. You might be wondering: why this pink element in a space that contains no reference to pink? But opening and crossing that arc…
— That, thank God, is a handle, you go somewhere!
— … You go to the area of intimacy. The area of intimacy is all pink. This same pink colour is also revived in the night lighting of the service spaces surrounding the main living room space.
— I said before that from the window you can see the Aurelian Walls. In reality Cardillo moved to Rome in the early 2000s, just as a choice. In the meantime, he has made a well-documented journey in the national and international press, working inside and outside, but also signalled as an emerging architect with attention from numerous newspapers, both in the sector and tangential, which concern the style and way of life; first of all the magazine Wallpaper*,. Not so long ago, in 2012, last year, there was then an interview with Der Spiegel. I state that Radio 3 has a historical precedent: a famous interview with an important international curator who pretended, as he did on other occasions, to be an important artist, namely Cattelan. It is a small heirloom that we have in our archives, a false interview, as some have been done, that we have kept and collected. Why am I quoting this? What was told in this interview?
— From a literary point of view, it generated the opportunity to interpret the work I did from 2004 until 2012. I have tried to overcome the problem of commissioning, which is fundamental in architecture, by permanently eliminating it.
— But how? (Laughs)
— So I built a geographical map of ‘non-existent’ places through artificial computer simulations, sending architectural projects, built suppositories, to various international magazines, which, in general ambiguity, published them several times. Unfortunately, since the nineties, architecture magazines have stopped publishing projects. This is a serious problem that has to do with the decadence of architectural culture, because the impossibility of publishing projects eliminates the possibility for new generations to land on publication.
— The point is clear: how do you enter this path and be published if you have not yet built it? Cardillo’s choice was to create, for example, I am trying to remember: the Nude Tower Hotel?
— That has been mentioned several times. But I must disappoint you because it has never been published. No one ever believed it because he was at the Lungotevere dei Mellini.
— So it was easy to verify that it did not exist.
— Instead on La Stampa it was written that it had been published. These are then misunderstandings of interpretation.
— Additional mystifying paths…
— I think the interview with Der Spiegel is interesting because it is the idea of the story about the story. It continues the reflection on what communication is today. There is a subversive aspect to my action. Acting in this way I breached a wall and yet there is a risk; but if I had not acted this way I could not have built a house in Japan, a shop for Sergio Rossi and the House of Dust near the Via Veneto.
— And indeed, in the list of the various proposals of Cardillo’s work there are some that have really been built mixed with others, and there the ambiguity, which have been realised only with the visual aspect on the computer. And here it takes sincerity: is it a project or is it a path that has been built? That is, a first attempt was followed by a second? And why then decide to unmask yourself on Der Spiegel? Could it go on for much longer; or had there been a concern? Or even a desire to stop this game?
— The idea of building this imaginary map of places, of these architectures that we can call fantastic today, is derived from the study of history. I have a historical background and the whole story is crossed by the idea of architecture as an imaginary. Just think of the architectures of the architects of the Ledoux and Boullée revolution, or Sant’Elia, or the first projects of Mies van der Rohe. So I am amazed by those who are scandalised by this aspect. It is normal for an architect to make a path…
— But you have lied…
— Art is a lie! Art is a lie that seeks the truth.
— And here comes into play the reason why we were intrigued. There is a slight shift in the axis of the gaze, from the work of an architect, because it is and we visited this house a little together as we could have been in Milan in the space of the store, to the work of art that becomes the artist himself the manifesto of what he does. That is, has the needle of the ‘Geiger counter’ moved a little, from architect to conceptual artist? Can we call it that?
— I believe that architecture is art. I am taking responsibility with this statement. I do not believe in company studies. I believe that the decadence of contemporary architecture is due in the last thirty years since we have touted that architecture is produced in a factory with one hundred and fifty or two hundred people. I believe that this type of production, which goes hand in hand with what happens in music, in cinema and also in some ways in literature, is the basis of the decadence of contemporary culture. Mine is a radical statement. However, if architecture is poetry, you cannot delegate the creative process. I personally followed the construction site and the design phase of the House of Dust, physically being in this place. According to the dictates of those who produce architecture today, this is an old way of operating. I do not think so.
- ^ Tony Chambers, Jonathan Bell, Ellie Stathaki, ‘Architects directory 2009’, Wallpaper*, no. 125, dir. Tony Chambers, London, Aug. 2009, pp. 74, 76‑77, 81. ‘Antonino Cardillo, Italy’ , wallpaper.com, London, 25 June 2009.
- ^ Susanne Beyer, ‘Hochstapler: Römische Ruinen’ , Der Spiegel, no. 27/12, Hamburg, 2 June 2012, pp. 3, 121‑123.
- ^ Alessandro Alviani, ‘Cardillo, l’architetto delle case inesistenti’ , La Stampa, vol. 146, no. 182, Turin, 3 June 2012, p. 37.
Thanks to Guido Barbieri, Daniela Condò and Auronda Scalera
The House of Dust pink handle. Photography: Antonino Cardillo, 2023
RAI Radio 3, Rome, 6 June 2013
- Antonino Cardillo, ‘Incontro con l’architetto Antonino Cardillo’, Radio 3 Suite [programma radiofonico], ed. Andrea Penna, RAI Radio 3, Rome, 6 June 2013.