Rafael de Cárdenas Scholarship at RISD supports access and equity in education

The new Rafael de Cárdenas Scholarship at RISD offers support for students at the school’s Architecture or Apparel departments; we catch up with the architect to find out more

Mitchell Gold Bob Williams collection of furniture by Rafael De Cardenas, picked as we celebrated the rafael de Cárdenas scholarship at risd
The recently launched Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams collection of furniture by Rafael De Cardenas
(Image credit: Courtesy Mitchell Gold Bob Williams)

Launching the Rafael de Cárdenas Scholarship at RISD was a moment of pride and happiness for the New York-based architect, designer and founder of studio Architecture at Large. Rafael de Cárdenas' namesake grant was designed to support students in either the Architecture or Apparel departments at the world-renowned school (de Cárdenas' alma mater). It underlines its creator's view of education (and access to it) as a necessity; his own background at RISD helped him carve a career that includes projects spanning architecture, interiors and art, such as the recent Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams collection of furniture by Rafael De Cardenas, and the interiors at Miami housing The Fairchild Coconut Grove. Celebrating this important initiative towards equity in the field, we caught up with de Cárdenas to discuss his idea, how it came up and what it entails for awardees. 

Rafael de Cárdenas Scholarship at RISD: how, why and what

W*: What motivated you to set up the scholarship? 

Rafael de Cárdenas: I did my bachelor’s degree (in Apparel Design) at RISD. Class of 96. In 2020 or so, alumni relations reached out regarding donations and my involvement as a noteworthy alum. We started discussing the costs of a private art school education. I was shocked. 

When I was at RISD I received financial aid, which made attendance possible. So partly I felt duty-bound to give back. But it also goes way beyond that at this point. I'm extremely happy to help one person with their education and having a hand in helping them define goals and meeting them. Extremely happy is not even the right word. It is a form of pride that I feel! And I hope it motivates other people who have had luck in their lives to help the next generation. When I was at RISD, it was a pretty white place. I set few rules [regarding the scholarship] but one of them was that the recipient be Latinx. 

portrait of architect rafael de cardenas

Rafael de Cárdenas

(Image credit: Guillaume Gaudet)

W*: What does the scholarship offer the awardee? 

RdC: It covers a considerable part of the cost for one student for four years. I’m also working with a separate department that provides funds throughout the year for materials, which can be very costly. That’s separate from the scholarship, but stands to benefit the recipient of the scholarship alongside other students.

W*: How would the person be selected? 

RdC: The scholarship is intended for any LatinX student in Architecture or Apparel Design. The admissions department makes the selection, based on their system; I just set up a few guides. 

outdoors seating at Fairchild Grove housing by Strang Design and Rafael de Cárdenas

The Fairchild Grove housing by Strang Design and Rafael de Cárdenas

(Image credit: Kris Tamburello)

W*: Why are support and scholarships like this important for students and the wider community?

RdC: The odds are stacked against young artists and designers. This is a modest leveling of the playing field in a very messed-up educational system. Given the costs, it’s all but impossible for many people to attend a prestigious art school. We need to accommodate diversity in these schools. For the sake of less privileged kids and for the sake of our culture. We need to nourish and stimulate different styles and perspectives.

W*: What is your vision for this programme? what would success look like? 

RdC: Success would look like making an education possible for even just one young designer or artist for whom it would otherwise be impossible. I hope and plan to make a greater difference. It will take time. But given the circumstances, we cannot be too ambitious.



Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).