Rafael de Cardenas is pretty well known within our circles, not only as the man behind the unique and hugely influential O.H.W.O.W Gallery and associated spaces, but also the designer behind a number of other well known retail outlets. Coming from a fashion background, the architect has a uniquely artistic approach to the use of space, and without a doubt lives as one of the most creative people in our culture today. We caught up with Rafael to discuss his latest project, Nike’s Stadium on New York Cities Bowery.

SlamxHype: Tell us about how you started your business and how the market has changed in that time.

Rafael: The big budget project stuff started to dry up when the recession hit, budgets of 10 million dollars and water fountains were no where to be seen, people kind of stopped doing it so I started to work as a freelancer. I had so much free time I just started doing spaces for friends, this was about four years ago and then it all started to snow ball. So I have only really had my own practice for four years.

SlamxHype: So this sort of all grew from chance, doing projects for friends and so on..

Rafael: Yeah, I mean to be honest a lot of my friends are my clients. I guess we have all started to make a little more money as we have gotten older too, we’re all in our 30’s, so the projects have gotten a bit bigger too.

SlamxHype: I have seen a lot of the work you have done with OHWOW and Aaron, which are very creative in terms of the way in which they look, but also they look as though you have been creative in terms of the way you have used materials and so on – not going out and spending massive budgets on it necessarily.

Rafael: Well, that’s exactly it, we don’t have massive budgets, those projects specifically didn’t have massive budgets.

SlamxHype: Exactly, Is this something you enjoy? Not working with a budget? Getting more creative in terms of gathering and usefulness of product and material etc?

Rafael: No, I would rather have unlimited budget! However, I do think that you need some discipline in design. Essentially you need a problem to solve, so i think it is good to have some constraints. In the past I probably have used the cheaper material for the projects which have the smaller budgets. But in saying that, we have had the bigger budget projects too and I don’t think the the cheaper projects looks any worse or better than the bigger budget projects.

Ultimately, these smaller budget projects were working with a basic plywood, there were a few screws and 40 degree angles settings, a few cool details. I guess whatever material you are working with, it is the way in which you handle it and  how you work with what you have to create something just as good, if not better.

SlamxHype: Moving on to your project specifically with Nike, what was the brief like that was handed to you? How broad or refined was it?

Rafael: It was pretty specific, I don’t know if I followed it all that much, I guess I did. I have a relationship with Julian at Nike already and I guess we are probably friends for a reason. One of the references was Barbara Kruger for example, along with some of my own work, so I actually think that they were wanting references that I was already using in my work, but ultimately it all had to come back and be relevant to sports somehow.

I feel comfortable working with Nike, they know me, and I can always feel comfortable to stand my ground. I didn’t concede on anything and I’m really happy that I didn’t.

SlamxHype: I think that goes back to having a re pour with who you are working with, I think you are probably going to get a better product at the end of the day

Rafael: I like to think so. I mean it is not the only way in which to work but I do feel in this case it was a big component, for sure. I mean there was just so much creative involved- its sort of crazy

SlamxHype: How did you integrate the theme of sports into the space?

Rafael: I think through a few ways. In the main space we have these stripes on the floors which are made from gaffer tape, the idea behind that was we started with a soccer field as a visual start, we started to torture it, rotate it revolve it and replicate it until we eventually come up with this hexagonal pattern made up of these directional lines, then we got rid of the hexagonal pattern completely to be left with a cris-crossing over-lapping lines sort of pattern. By doing this, I feel we stripped the sport of any winning or loosing aspects to the game and just reintegrated the bigger sense of actual play within the sport.

I am a runner, that is not something anyone knows about me unless they know me. I need to run everyday and I do so but I have never thought of myself as an athletic person. It’s just something that I do day to day that is important to me. I think I thought about how sport played the role in my life. It is like this constant thing for people, I mean I’m not walking around in sneakers or anything like that, but it does become part of you and your day very quickly.

SlamxHype: I think of the Nike Stadium space as a place where sports and the creative community meet and what that brings to the wider community on a whole. I think this is what Nike are so keen on providing to the sports and creative communities to be able to work with each other.

Rafael: Yeah i think, the space has a sports feel and how ever any one person reacts to that visual of sports and/or any sorts of movement. We thought of these triangular shapes that can be all stacked on top of each other to create one larger element or shape, and I think we were thinking in terms of a more discreet element to actually play a role similar to pawns on a check board for example. You can move them around accordingly; you can move them to sit by your friends or if you want to make your own new seating area ..

SlamxHype: So it seems that you have created a space that is not only modular for Nike but also a space that is modular for it’s users too

Rafael: Yeah i think it is more modular to its users than it is modular to Nike.

SlamxHype: Nike are building these spaces in a number of locations around the world, is there anything specifically you feel that relates to New York?

Rafael: Yeah I have seen the one in Milan and the one in London, I think that the one in London is very, very polished, polished in a way that would not appeal to New Yorkers. Native life in New York  doesn’t like things that are glossy. I personally like the one in London quite a bit, but with New York we sort of wanted a more live in feel, I mean the board is going to chip, the gaffer tape will get scuff marks on it, I think we wanted that kind of feel – almost like a beat up skate deck or something like that.