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Anthropology in architecture

, Trapani, 
(last revision)

Edited transcript of the lecture on the work of the architect Antonino Cardillo part of the cultural events of the Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum in Trapani

Museo Agostino Pepoli

Architecture stands as an expression of the art of building, anthropology as an interpreter of the reasons for dwelling. If a dialectic is initiated between the expressions of the two cultural fields, the outcome will be an interpenetration between artistic modules and lived life, between styles and everyday life that, not excluding each other in the affirmation of their autonomy, will give away projects not detached from reality.

Antonino Cardillo, an architect/explorer, tried his hand at this dialogue, who wanted to experiment with new paths in his projects.

Those who pursue new paths are often misunderstood because they are ahead of others, because they dialogue with a changing world. Culture as a dynamic phenomenon captures what are the changes and orientations of a society. Anthropology has made it the subject of its own research and its contribution is so important that Renzo Piano has some in his team. Knowing that for a decade now the Faculty of Architecture of Palermo no longer teaches anthropology, means making future architects incomplete professionals.

For the past it has been understood, for example, the meaning and beauty of the great Gothic cathedrals, signs of a project linked to the power of the Church, their soaring towards the sky an invitation to look upwards, to remember that ours is a transeunt world; or even that the signs of the Baroque are the reference of a world linked to political and social power that, in pomp and magnificence, codified the message of a power believed, as Giulio Argan claimed, to last forever. But often the architectural solutions of our present are not so clear. We are not prepared to read the plans of the one who implements the future. This is the case of the architect Antonino Cardillo, a great eclectic.

The conceptuality contained in his projects is complex and cultured. His paths appear, after navigating history, in distant lands where myths merge in the identity of cultures. His plans do not stop at the sign. The sign is the extension of a path that becomes characterising and then becomes that project. In reality, Cardillo relates anthropology to Jung’s analytical psychology and Wagner’s music. How is it possible that all this can enter into a dialogue? It is so possible that if you have the key to reading, those projects will be unveiled in all their expressive force. They are the expression of a ‘where’ that releases that harmony of Being that refers to what surrounds us, where the real is a Pandora’s box. Often, we liquidate what is not understood, sometimes even in a hostile way. We are opposed to it because it disturbs the intellectual balance of routine normality.

Antonino Cardillo lived this experience on his own skin, but he went on because strong of his convictions and his reference apparatus that is a solid and robust culture, without which there is only the banality of serial reproduction. This hesitated satisfaction with the recognitions that did not take long to arrive. He was just thirty-three years old when a major English magazine called him and placed him among the thirty largest architects in the world.⁠⁠[1] Just thirty-three years old! This is to make it clear that those who have managed to enter the folds of his elaborations, have grasped the complexity of boundaries that move between reality and dream, between reality and unreality. Because his is not a linear path, but a path of refined elaboration where sometimes it is nice to get lost, and precisely because you get lost, to find yourself. There is a definition that Antoninus gives of architecture: “architecture does not create new things but builds senses and meanings from the combination of the things of the world. Architecture is therefore an interpretation of the world.”⁠[2] ‘Interpretation of the world’ is just what the architect does in his works. An interpretation now for years accepted in the magazine directed by Paolo Portoghesi Abitare la Terra, the most recent in the July issue of this year.⁠[3] Suspended between dream and reality, in his projects there is the immense baggage that Cardillo has linked to the three thousand years of man’s history in his land. Foundation is Greek philosophy, Plato, the shadows considered true because one does not have the knowledge of what reality in re. And his whole life and project path is hovering between real design and design related to the computer-generated image. And what might seem not reality, fades to deliver reality and leave the question: where are the boundaries of one and the other? He remembers when Le Corbusier believed that the classic world was all beautiful and white. It was the tempest of the moment. The white of the Greek statues was the model to refer to. That was the truth, but it was not the truth, because then it turned out that the statues were enriched with a chromatic excess.

Antonino Cardillo also refers to ancestral moments, where anthropology leads to the understanding of that incipit from which cultural history unfolds. If in Plato the cave is path to knowledge, in anthropology the cavern and the grotto mark the beginning of the process of civilisation, from shared spatiality to the establishment of small communities that will determine the long path of culture.

The cave is the incipit on which the Specus Corallii project that Antonino Cardillo realises in Trapani, in his city, takes shape. The project dedicated to Mary whose effige comes from the sea, returns in an unused space of the Mother Church the dialogue between modernity and submerged. That path, from the general to the particular, through the arches, winds to arrive at a truth that is in the abandoned oratory, formerly Sala Laurentina. But the cave is not only a myth that is proposed at an ideal level, it is the material of that moment of initial chaos, an explanation of what are roots to which Cardillo resorts almost as a constant, of the ashes of Vesuvius: the ‘pozzolana’, already known and used in the Roman world.

Here you enter the path between what is true and what is not true. Why? Because if Cardillo proposes a constructed through rendering, he says: “I give the vision of what is not in re. Why, if I want to make with rendering what is the concept for me of a cave and, through techniques and procedures I can put the dust of Vesuvius on the ceilings and walls of a room, I do what? The fact of returning to that incipit of the cave, where those roots return with colours—between the indefinite and the impalable—in a continuous dialogical relationship between materials, ancestral forms, but also forms that dialogue with the present.” And in this relationship between ‘different truths’, Cardillo emphasises that at the moment he wants to represent the ashes of Vesuvius, which must be put on the wall for that precise meaning, in the real it is seen, but in the rendering it is not possible to see it. So, in what is not real you cannot see the real; while in what is real I have no reference to what is not real. Here is Plato’s speech that brings back to the initial moment of knowledge. Plato calls it the paradox of our reality. And about dust, which is the element that questions knowledge, Antonino wrote: “Architecture is dust, dust that becomes form, dust transfigured by the mind.”⁠⁠[4] In the set of his realisations it is possible to see this path. Because there are projects made as if they were really made houses. So it happens to ask: where was this house built, where is this project located? What are the boundaries that suggest those actually realised and those ‘realised’ in the mental project alone? There is no disagreement between one and the other, because it is the continuation of a single path dictated by his ability to make subjects, materials and knowledge dialogue with each other with that substrate of Carl Jung from which Antonino never detaches himself.

Reading his projects is not easy reading because it serves that key that the history of modern architecture still does not give. It takes patience and reflection to penetrate concepts that are not easy. And the impulse to turn the page warns us that the effort you put into trying to understand what deviates from the routine design, if it is not serious, does not hesitate in results. So that turned page becomes a path of knowledge not implemented.

Walking on new roads is difficult but—just like in Cardillo’s projects when the unveiled reality of a nave surrounded by colours of light suddenly opens through the arches—the depth of the intrinsic conceptual message also becomes manifest.

Here, the harmony of the whole enters into dialogue with the present. This is also the case for the so-called House of Dust, built in Rome. The harmony of Being, the moment he leaves the external world and wants to find himself again, finds it not in the standardised parameters but in the inner parameters of knowledge.

I believe that the disruptive personality of Antonino Cardillo (in person he is a shy!), well outlined even in the most hidden folds, was caught by Jeanette Kunsmann’s interview ‘Architecture and truth’.⁠⁠[5] It is the most beautiful and exhaustive that has been made to him among the multiple of the most established magazines, where he returns to Antonino already in 2017 what is the value of being an uncomfortable explorer. Yet, in a world where it is not easy to land, Antonino has landed. He has found foreign clients—but some also in Italy—testifying with his creativity to an all-Italian pride.

We sometimes live from a past that does not belong to us. That past that was marked by the dominations that came to Sicily and that left us their monuments. Instead we need to take possession of the past through a reading that knows how to go further. But here you need beautiful souls. And beautiful souls, often, are never comfortable with themselves.


  1. ^ Tony Chambers, Jonathan Bell, Ellie Stathaki, ‘Architects directory 2009’, Wallpaper*, no. 125, eic. Tony Chambers, London, Aug. 2009, pp. 74, 76‑77, 81. ‘Antonino Cardillo, Italy,, London, 25 July 2009.
  2. ^ Antonino Cardillo, ‘Mammacaura: la soglia dove tramonti’ , Casabella, no. 925, dir. Francesco Dal Co, Milan, Sept. 2021, p. 11.
  3. ^ Mario Pisani, ‘L’intervento nelle saline Ettore e Infersa a Mammacaura, Marsala 2021’ , Abitare la Terra, no. 60, dir. Paolo Portoghesi, Rome, July 2023, pp. 30‑33.
  4. ^ Francesca Gottardo, ‘Architettura di polvere’ (pdf), Abitare la Terra, no. 37, dir. Paolo Portoghesi, Rome, March 2015, p. 50.
  5. ^ Jeanette Kunsmann, Stephan Burkoff, ‘Antonino Cardillo: Architektur und Wahrheit’ (pdf), DEAR Magazin, no. 1, Berlin, April 2017, pp. 3, 13, 68‑85, cover.
Anthropology in architecture

‘Anthropology in architecture’ conference poster. Graphic design and photo: Antonino Cardillo


  • Rita Cedrini, ‘L’antropologia nell’architettura’, paper presented to the series of cultural events of the Agostino Pepoli Museum, Trapani, 26 May 2023.