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June 23, 2024

Kanye West Bought an Architectural Treasure—Then Gave It a Violent Remix

Radziner began work on the Tom Ford project. Ando’s designs came to include a low house and a reflecting pool. (Ford dropped the idea of building a mausoleum for the future remains of himself, his husband, and their fox terriers.) Construction wasn’t quite done when, in 2007, Radziner first heard from Richard Sachs, who had retired in his forties after working at such firms as Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers. Ando had agreed to design him a house in Malibu, and had recommended Radziner as executive architect.

Ando, outside his studio, in Osaka, Japan. He has stressed the importance of a “coexistence” between humans and nature, and his designs often try to thwart a too sharp division between indoor and outdoor life, to the extent that a client’s art collection allows.Photograph by Kentaro Takahashi / NYT / Redux

At Radziner’s office, in West L.A., he showed me photographs of the Sachs House under construction. The process required many times as much concrete as a more ordinary American house of the same size. The walls and floors were made of thick concrete. Twelve concrete caissons were built, reaching sixty feet beneath the dirt—or the sand, on the ocean side. “You do it at low tide,” Radziner explained. “But you’re still pumping water out as the concrete’s dropping in.” Underground, the caissons are cylindrical, but, where they are visible, holding the house about fifteen feet above the beach, they’re square in section. That’s a pain to do. But such effort “is all about the look,” Radziner told me. During construction, which began in 2009, technical drawings, sometimes annotated by Ando, were in constant transmission between Osaka and L.A. An Ando lieutenant visited Malibu Road every few months; Ando himself made perhaps half a dozen visits.

“Mr. Ando is brilliant in an almost cinematic way,” Radziner told me. Ando stages an interior like a director: “As you turn, you experience another view. Maybe the ceiling is a little low—you feel the weight of that—and then you move through, and, suddenly, the ceiling pops up, and there’s this expansive space.” We looked at images of the wide staircases. “To do that on a small site in Malibu is a bold move,” Radziner said, adding that it’s unusual to find a client who will value “the experience of space more than how much quote-unquote usable floor space he has.” (Asked about how accepting Sachs was of the wabi-sabi flaws in the concrete, Radziner smiled, then said, “Pretty good.”)

The house was finished in 2013. From the kitchen, which had stainless-steel surfaces, one could survey the ocean over a glass-topped dining table with blue-cushioned chairs. Above the table, Sachs hung a painting of a nude figure by the New York-based artist George Condo. (While the house was under construction, Condo painted five alternative covers for Ye’s 2010 album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”)

By 2013, Ando had executed fewer than ten commissions in the U.S. So it’s an odd coincidence that, while the Sachs House was being built, another team was putting up another Ando house in Malibu, just four miles west. As Radziner phrased it, “We were working on the Little Ando, and that was the Big Ando.”

The Big Ando was designed for Maria and Bill Bell, whose wealth derives, in part, from TV soap operas created by Bill’s parents, including “The Young and the Restless.” These clients had first shown Yantrasast their site in early 2003: eight acres on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.

In Yantrasast’s favorable description, an Ando museum can have the air of a home that has expanded to accept institutional duties. Ando was now increasingly being asked to flip that equation, and design homes built on a museum-like scale for members of what Yantrasast calls the “art-collecting communities.” Ando designed more than thirty thousand square feet of space for the Bells, including a gallery that could comfortably display a ten-foot-high Koons sculpture, on a plinth, representing piled-up lumps of Play-Doh.

Yantrasast calls the Big Ando, finished in 2015, “one of the best houses in America.” Radziner agrees that it’s remarkable. But, he noted, “it’s white concrete. That’s all about perfection.” The Little Ando, he said, was more special. “I love this house,” he said. “It’s the classic gray. So I think that Mr. Ando really loves it, too.”

In 2007, several years after Ye’s career had taken off—first, as a producer for Jay-Z and other hip-hop stars, then with his own albums—Ye started a blog largely about art, design, and architecture. As a child, in Chicago, Ye would read Architectural Digest in a local Barnes & Noble; he was briefly enrolled at Chicago’s American Academy of Art. On the blog, he added approving captions to images found online; they showed work by, among others, the architects Moshe Safdie, Rem Koolhaas, and Ando. Beneath a photograph of a cable-railway station in Austria designed by Zaha Hadid, he wrote, “I want my future now!” Ye, who declined to participate in this article, sometimes relaxed into a Martha Stewart-like idiom. A photograph of three dozen rounded gray cushions piled on a floor, like a rock slide, was captioned with a warning that the visual impact of such an arrangement would be diminished by, say, “a 6 year old Ikea coffee table with a stack of 30 magazines and some hard back books with the old paper covers still on em which, sidebar, should have been removed.” In the three years that Ye maintained the blog, images of architectural spectacle—a tree house resembling an eyeball, the world’s largest swimming pool—increasingly shared space with examples of residential minimalism in Scandinavia and Japan.

Ye and Kim Kardashian began a romantic relationship in 2012. Ye seems to have often taken the design lead in the partnership—a scene in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” from that year shows him gently urging her to toss out much of her wardrobe. They worked together on readying a house for themselves, in Bel Air, that was neither futuristic nor minimalist. Its terra-cotta-tiled roof and ochre outer walls suggested Portofino (or “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Oana Stănescu, the Romanian architect, was speaking as a Ye design adviser when she told W magazine that the Bel Air mansion was “so bad, seriously—it couldn’t be any worse.” The same article, from 2013, describes Ye working on new songs while Googling modernist legends. (“How do you spell Mies van der Rohe?”) That fall, he visited the Harvard Graduate School of Design, at the invitation of students. “The world can be saved through design,” he told them. “And everything needs to actually be architected.” Stănescu helped strip away the ornamentation on the Bel Air house, giving it an oddly denuded, shaved-cat silhouette.

Kardashian and Ye didn’t stay long. In 2014, the year of their wedding, they bought a much larger house in Hidden Hills, a gated community northwest of L.A., which posed similar design challenges: the listing called it a “French Country pièce de résistance”; Ye has called it a McMansion. With this house, Ye, whose music career was founded on an unmatched ability to make something beguiling and new out of music recorded years earlier, undertook what could be thought of as an attempt to test the limits of remodelling. Could some version of minimalism be jammed into a suburban mansion with such farm-housey details as shutters and exposed beams? The makeover was executed by Stănescu and Axel Vervoordt, the Belgian interior designer, among others. Ye aptly characterized the resulting look as “futuristic Belgian monastery.” A client drawn equally to spareness and to architectural bravura ended up with a sprawling interior so relentlessly off-white that judging distances must have been a challenge. It’s minimalism, but it’s also a lot. In 2018, Kardashian, who at that point had three children with Ye—their fourth was born the following year—spoke to Architectural Digest about living with them in a house furnished largely with pale blobs: “I run around the house with towels. You do have to just take a deep breath and say, ‘Okay, it’s going to happen.’ ”

“Soon she was apologizing for apologizing . . . and then she reflexively apologized for that”

“Soon, she was apologizing for apologizing . . . and then she reflexively apologized for that!”

Cartoon by Sophie Lucido Johnson and Sammi Skolmoski

That year, Ye invited “architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better” to work with him on a new venture, Yeezy Home. An Instagram post by one of his designers indicated that the mission would include making affordable housing with precast concrete. By then, Ye had built a spectacularly successful mass-market fashion career, in partnership with Adidas. (He’d also aligned himself with President Donald Trump and suggested that slavery in the U.S. had been consensual.) The progress of Yeezy Home, which lacked a multinational corporate partner like Adidas, was hard to discern; it had to be inferred, in part, from drone photographs of experimental domed structures that Ye had erected in Calabasas, California, and in Cody, Wyoming. But the consistent suggestion was that Ye’s reach in music and fashion could be replicated in the built environment. “I’m going to be one of the biggest real-estate developers of all time,” he said.

One evident influence was James Turrell, best known for his monumental and still unfinished land-art project at Roden Crater, in Arizona. For decades, Turrell has moved hundreds of thousands of tons of earth at the site, building chambers, connected by tunnels, that frame views of sky. Ye once told GQ that, the first time he and Turrell spoke, on the phone, “I was literally screaming at the top of my lungs about how important it was for us to work together.” (This conversation likely occurred after the summer of 2015, when Drake—with whom Ye developed a long beef—shot the video for his hit “Hotline Bling” inside an uncredited imitation of Turrell’s work.) Turrell, now in his eighties, has kept people away from his crater during its remodelling, but he has made exceptions for potential donors to the project. In 2018, he gave Ye what he recently remembered as a “full day and night tour.” To Turrell’s surprise, Ye later made good on an offer to contribute ten million dollars. On Ye’s birthday the next year, Turrell gave him a sketched design of a house.

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