Kanye West

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

Author: Editors Desk, Ian Parker Source: The New Yorker
June 12, 2024 at 09:17

The house, in Malibu, carefully guided inhabitants through indoor and outdoor spaces. It was sold to Ye—formerly Kanye West—in 2021, nine years after construction was complete. He admired Ando, and wanted an Ando, but didn’t “like the interior,” one of the architect’s former colleagues says.Video by Spencer Lowell for The New Yorker

Tony Saxon is a wiry, tattooed man in his early thirties who is proud of what he calls his “Jersey gonzo” work ethic—that is, “I’ve got a guy, or I’ll get a guy.” His legal surname is Netelkos, but he prefers the one that his father adopted while performing as a lounge singer with an Elvis-inspired act. The younger Saxon had a sometimes chaotic and druggy youth; he now sustains himself with Red Bull and can talk loudly and without interruption—but still with some charm—for four or five hours. When we recently met in Boyle Heights, in East Los Angeles, he arrived in a 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible.

Four years ago, Saxon moved to California from northern New Jersey and sublet an apartment in North Hollywood. He worked on TV commercials and as a handyman; he played in bands and recorded music. In September, 2021, a woman who introduced herself as Bianca inquired about his availability for construction work. He was available. A few days later, she texted, asking him to come to Malibu immediately. In a response that eventually led to a lawsuit against Ye, formerly Kanye West—the music and fashion star who in the past two years has become known for his public antisemitism and admiration of Hitler—Saxon said that he’d get his tools.

He drove down to the Santa Monica Pier, then headed northwest on the Pacific Coast Highway. For about ten miles, the road follows the ocean’s edge: if you live on the beach, you also live next to a four-lane highway. But just past the Malibu Pier the highway and the ocean separate, and for a few miles the beachfront properties line a calm residential street, Malibu Road, with speed bumps and dog-walkers. Stan Laurel used to live here.

The houses stand shoulder to shoulder, allowing little more than a glimpse of sky between them. Saxon pulled up to a two-story façade of smooth gray concrete. On the upper floor, the surface was interrupted only by an arrow-slit window; at street level, there was a wooden garage door, and a front door and a window, both made of milkily opaque glass.

A few months earlier, when the house had had a different owner, a visitor would have entered a little gallery-like space, with concrete walls and gray limestone floor tiles, filled with contemporary art. The house withholds its big Pacific reveal, and the clouded glass casts the gallery in pale light. The art here once included photographs of nuclear-weapons-test clouds and a life-size statue of a man, no longer in his youth, with his fists in a boxer’s pose. The sculpture, cast in aluminum and painted blue, is by the French artist Xavier Veilhan. It is a likeness of Tadao Ando, the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect.

Ando, who had a brief boxing career, designed the house. Now eighty-two, he has kept his practice small. He has one office, in his home city of Osaka, and has never employed more than thirty people. He works on only a few designs each year. Some are museums; many are houses; nearly all, including the house on Malibu Road—finished in 2013, for Richard Sachs, a former money manager—are made of concrete, poured on-site, and left unclad and unpainted, indoors and out. In what has become an Ando signature, the concrete’s velvety surface is marked by evenly spaced holes—small and shallow enough to be plugged by, say, a marshmallow.

The Malibu Road house has about four thousand square feet of indoor space. Another property of this scale, on this street, might sell for twenty million dollars. When Sachs put his house on the market, in 2020, he asked for seventy-five million. Sachs’s price, like his aluminum statue, suggests the extent to which an appreciation of Ando can take the form of veneration. For very wealthy people who spend some of their wealth on art, no living architect seems more likely to make them feel that they’re buying not just a fine home but the work of a major modern artist. An Ando house will require expensive and exacting construction; it will have a controlled, sober beauty that photographs well and that plainly communicates contemporary, if not avant-garde, taste. And it will be rare. The client will receive personal validation of the most tangible, bombproof kind. Ando has said that, after being introduced to potential clients, “my decision to accept their projects depends mainly on their personality and aura.” An American real-estate agent who has had some interactions with Ando recently told the Wall Street Journal that “it was like working with God.”


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The Malibu house bought by Ye has about four thousand square feet of indoor space. Four miles to the west, on a grassy bluff overlooking the Pacific, is a forty-two-thousand-square-foot Ando mansion. The owners are Beyoncé and Jay-Z.Photograph by Spencer Lowell for The New Yorker

Saxon was let into the Malibu Road house by Bianca Censori, the woman who had texted him; she was in her twenties. The house is a box partially embedded in the continent’s last, low step of land. The structure then stretches over the sand, propped up by four pillars at about the high-tide mark. (The beach here is narrow.) Although the house appears from the street to be two stories, the front door is on the middle of three floors—the main floor. A short corridor leads from the gallery to an open living area where the house delivers its vast, binary view of sky and ocean, through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Censori mentioned that the house, which was empty of furnishings, had a new owner, but she didn’t name him. A few other people were around; they had ladders and tools. One or two were identified as co-workers of Censori’s and, like her, were dressed all in black. Others, like Saxon, had been summoned that day. Walking around, Saxon registered bathroom walls lined in marble—“gorgeous black-and-white marble, like something in a New York hotel in the nineteen-twenties,” he told me—and custom wooden cabinetry that, he estimated, had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Downstairs, the ceilings were lower than on the main floor. Three rooms, each with a little bathroom, had ocean views. There was also a laundry, and a room where Saxon saw devices that controlled the house’s heating and other systems. On the upper floor, two extravagantly wide staircases—more suggestive of a college library than of a beach house—descended to the main floor. One staircase was inside, one was outside: they ran alongside each other, separated by a wall built partly of glass. At the bottom of the outdoor staircase was a courtyard with a fire pit. At the top was a concrete hot tub. The top floor was mostly terrace, with the primary bedroom opening onto it. Sachs once kept a sculpture of the Incredible Hulk, by Jeff Koons, midway up the indoor staircase. In this area, Saxon noticed, Censori’s black-clad colleagues were doing something involving large blocks of foam. He remembered being told that they were turning the stairs into a slide.

Later—as the house’s interior was dismantled—Saxon would spend nights here, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, surrounded by Clif Bars and Red Bulls, and bothered by seagulls. Later still, Censori would become a fixture of the paparazzi-oriented media, as the romantic partner of the house’s owner: Ye. For nearly a year, Censori, who is Australian and had studied architecture at the University of Melbourne, had been working for him on various design projects, alongside other young architects. Saxon saved her number on his phone under “Bianca architect.” (Censori did not respond to requests for comment.)

In the fall of 2021, Ye was forty-four, and his wealth was estimated to be nearly two billion dollars, thanks in part to fashion deals with Adidas and the Gap. That February, his wife, Kim Kardashian, had filed for divorce. Saxon, who’s unimpressed by most music recorded after 1969, now takes some pride in having been oblivious of whom Censori meant when she referred to “the owner,” and why there was some hubbub in the street and a security guard posted outside. People paying closer attention to Ye’s life might have read a TMZ story, published a few days before Saxon’s visit, headlined “kanye west drops a whopping $57.3 million for malibu home/sculpture.”

Censori asked Saxon to paint over the shelves, cabinets, and closets—along with the bathroom marble—in a shade that would disguise the boundaries between these surfaces and the untreated concrete of the walls. She said of the owner, “He doesn’t want any of the wood to show.” Saxon had a moment’s pause: the paint would look bad (and soon peel off). But he likes to contrast his pluck with what he perceives to be uniform lassitude among Californians, and he didn’t protest. He gave Censori a quote and drove off to buy paint samples.

That afternoon, Saxon did some test-painting on sections of wood. Censori sent photographs of these to the owner. They waited. Censori then told Saxon to remove all the wood; she allowed him to call a friend to help. That day, Saxon recalled, he and his colleague “ripped the cabinets out, we ripped the entire laundry-room wood out.” They worked all night, filling the garage with splintered pieces. Saxon eventually went home to sleep.

A few hours later, Censori woke him with a call: “Do you think you could come help me get the foam off the stairs?” She meant now. “And he wants to meet you,” she added.

In 2001, Tom Ford, the fashion designer and filmmaker, bought twenty-two thousand acres of land in northern New Mexico. He asked his preferred architect, Ron Radziner, of the L.A. firm Marmol Radziner, to design some buildings for the new property. But, as Radziner recently recalled, Ford also requested permission to stray, architecturally: “Tom said, ‘I’m not going to do this if you really don’t want me to. But how would you feel if I hired Tadao Ando to do the horse facility?’ ” Radziner, who admires Ando—it’s always “Mr. Ando,” in his telling—approved, and offered to become Ando’s local “executive architect” (in charge of permits and planning) and general contractor.

To secure Ando’s blessing, Radziner flew to Japan. Ando’s career had been founded, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, on ingenious single-family homes, often on tight city lots in Osaka. After Ando won the Pritzker, in 1995, his practice became increasingly international. Kulapat Yantrasast, a Thai-born architect, joined Ando’s firm in 1996, and came to spend much of his time overseas, frequently on projects for fashion-world figures. In France, he worked on a house, never built, for Karl Lagerfeld. In Italy, he oversaw the construction of a theatre in Milan for Giorgio Armani. Yantrasast, who now has his own practice, told me that such clients often have feelings of awe, touched with envy, for the rooted solidity of an Ando building. The work “is mysterious, it’s anchored, it has such a quiet presence,” Yantrasast said. “Whereas fashion and music are about dynamics and movement and change.”

Ando once wrote that it would be hard for him to build a house in America, because he wasn’t “familiar with Americans.” But by the time Radziner visited Osaka, in 2001, things had changed. Ando had designed a house in Chicago for Fred Eychaner, a media entrepreneur, and two institutional buildings: the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, in St. Louis, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where a reflecting pool generates a mirrored double of the concrete-and-glass façade.

Ando’s Osaka studio is about the size of a large town house, and is organized around an atrium. Alex Iida, an American architect who joined Ando’s staff in 2010, has described the studio as “five stories up, two stories down, and one big void in the middle,” adding, “So, pretty much, we can hear everything that’s going on.” Radziner recalled that, during his visit, he witnessed an impromptu staff meeting. Ando’s usual workstation, at the bottom of the void, put him right by the office’s only phones. That day, Ando had overheard a staff member’s phone conversation that didn’t sit right with him, and he had called the meeting to say so. He stood at the bottom, making his complaint to employees arranged above.

That scene of staff supervision, or surveillance, has an analogue in the way an Ando work is meant to be experienced. With a client’s assent, an Ando house makes unignorable decisions about how people, and light, should behave in it. Ando 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. A famous early house in Osaka was unheated, and obliged its inhabitants to cross a courtyard to reach the bathroom. Ando has said that when the client “came to me and asked me what he would do when it became too cold in the house, I told him to wear a sweater. When he asked me what would happen if it got even colder, I told him to wear many sweaters.”

Some contemporary architects foreground the idea of a building’s future flexibility. Ando isn’t one of them. Yantrasast, in explaining his decision to leave Ando’s studio, in 2003, told me that he wanted to explore a less “controlling” architecture. He said that he’d once shared with Ellsworth Kelly, the artist, a worry that people might dismiss his post-Ando designs, which have often used concrete, as mere offsprings. Kelly, reassuring him, contrasted what he described as the prescribed severity of Ando’s spaces with the more “open-minded” aesthetic of Yantrasast’s.

Ando’s method for casting a concrete wall on-site is unremarkable in its fundamentals. A contractor fashions a narrow rectangular mold from plywood sheets. One way of helping the mold withstand the weight of wet concrete is to pass metal rods, known as form ties, horizontally through the width of the box. Each tie has two nuts on it that are tightened against the plywood mold’s interior. The concrete is then poured in, typically over a forest of vertical rebar. After the concrete dries, the contractor removes the wood, the ends of the ties, and the nuts—leaving little holes, which can be filled in or not.

Ando requires contractors to do all this with unusual precision, and he carefully manages the effect of the lines where one sheet of plywood meets another, and the pattern of the tie holes. But, as Radziner came to realize when he visited numerous Ando projects in Japan, the result isn’t immaculate. “They’re striving for perfection, but it’s not about actual perfection,” he said. The concrete may dip a little around the tie holes, like around the button of a mattress; it will have tiny cracks and variations in color. “And that’s what makes concrete concrete,” Radziner said. “You feel the nature of it, the strength of it.” He has wondered whether some of Ando’s international clients miss the point when they decide to use white cement in the concrete mix: “You think, Oh, that could be plaster.” Radziner is confident that Ando’s preference is for uncolored concrete, whose hue of gray is determined, in part, by local materials.

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.

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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.’ ”

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.

By this point, Ye had publicly discussed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Documentary footage shot in 2018 and 2019, leaked online but never released as a film, shows behavior that one could reasonably connect to that diagnosis. In one sequence, Ye, wearing a maga hat, forces a political seminar on captive employees at a private-jet terminal in Chicago, shortly before flying off for an Oval Office meeting with Trump. (Later that day, in D.C., Ye is seen telling Jared Kushner by phone that he’ll keep his appointment at the White House only if he can enter the building “the exact way that a foreign dignitary would.”) The footage also shows Ye urging employees to build what he calls a “Turrell space” in four months, and enthusing about a proposed foam object that could be “a toilet and a bathtub and a shower and a couch.” He inspects a prototype dome, with a hole in the roof, and says that it could equally serve as a homeless shelter or an orphanage.

Ye appears to have been working toward a space in which he and his family could live—in one scene from the documentary, Kardashian advises him that her closet area should include a bathroom—as well as a larger community around him, and a housing template that could satisfy millions. On a monitor, a fly-through animation reveals various enormous Turrell-like structures while a narrator describes “a community of the future . . . a new way of life for the entire universe.” The camera catches the moment when the minimalist architect Claudio Silvestrin, who had once renovated a SoHo apartment for Ye, first sees an architectural drawing of the imagined community. The scale dawns on Silvestrin: there are dozens of circles on the page, each representing a separate structure. “I didn’t realize it was so big,” he says. Then, collecting himself, “O.K. So you would like a proposal.” (Ye and various collaborators, including the Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati, have spoken of building a city in the Middle East or an underground campus in Wyoming.)

The documentary underlines an obvious point: it’s hard to do architecture in bursts of enthusiasm and grandiosity. Ye is serious about buildings—we see him flicking through a book about Archigram, the experimental British architectural group of the nineteen-sixties and seventies—and he has unusual reserves of creative insight and energy, as he has at times himself observed. (“I am Warhol. . . . I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”) His urgency can be attractive; as he once said, in a conversation with a design publication, “I don’t want to be dead when the world starts getting good.” When Olgiati worked with him, he praised Ye’s radicalism and called him “probably the most interesting client that an architect can have.” But the path from an idea to a built thing is long, expensive, collaborative, and difficult to reverse. You can’t prototype a dozen city blocks, as you can a dozen sneakers or songs, and then pick the one that works best. And it’s hard not to think that, with Turrell, Ye started in the wrong place. Ye once tweeted, “We all will live in Turrell spaces.” More accurately: we won’t. Turrell’s hallmark Skyspace installations, of which there are more than eighty around the world, are exposed to the elements. Their acoustics can be challenging. There’s certainly nowhere to cook or wash. These are places that allow people to reset their sense of space and time—an eclipse-like experience, without the eclipse. Yet, even in the world’s most benign climates, they don’t point to a new paradigm of shelter.

The documentary shows that, in what appears to be less than two years, Ye met, separately, with several of the world’s best-known architects, including David Adjaye, Toyo Ito, and Jacques Herzog, of the firm Herzog & de Meuron. (As Ye clarified, with a laugh, in his 2018 track “Kids See Ghosts,” “Herzog and de Meuron, in an office out in Basel / No, not Miami—Switzerland.”) And, on a trip to Japan, Ye and Kardashian visited the island of Naoshima, where the Chichu Art Museum, a largely underground structure designed by Ando, includes a Turrell Skyspace. (Ye has rapped about being “in Japan with Tadao Ando.”)

Ye’s interactions with famous architects in this period—echoing his tendency to enlist a multitude of collaborators to contribute to an album—included reaching out to at least one other major international figure. In a recent conversation, this architect, who requested anonymity, told me that some of his senior partners met with Ye in L.A. (The architect couldn’t join.) Ye insisted on flying everyone, that evening, to Roden Crater, where he acted as a guide. “My guys came back to me with more questions than answers,” the architect said, dryly. He added, “My understanding is that he’ll ask one architect, and then another, and they would not know that the other was working on the same thing.” In the Arizona desert, Ye had been “full of visions,” but “the feeling was that there is something about architecture that requires a little bit of contemplation. And, maybe, a little bit of patience.”

Ye has described Ando as the world’s “greatest living architect” and “the Ye of all the architects.” He and Kardashian often visited the Big Ando in Malibu. In 2019, the year before Ye ran for President, Kardashian bought some land in La Quinta, California, southeast of Palm Springs. Later, after the couple separated, she applied for permits to build a house on this land, designed by Ando. In 2023, Kardashian posted photographs of herself in the Osaka studio, sitting with Ando and his colleague Alex Iida at a desk on which were strewn renderings of the house. Designs posted online show a form that, from above, resembles a guitar pick with a hole at its center. “Met with the master himself,” Kardashian wrote. “So deeply honored and incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to work with him.” (The house reportedly will have a footprint exceeding half an acre.)

In June, 2021, Ye and the model Irina Shayk, whom he was said to be dating, visited Château La Coste, an estate in southern France that is dotted with sculptural and architectural works by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and others. He was photographed walking next to a concrete Ando wall that runs alongside a little lake into which an Ando pavilion juts.

The next month, Ye gave a concert at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in Atlanta, to preview likely tracks on an impending album, “Donda.” Then he stayed. For several weeks, at a reported cost of a million dollars a day, he lived and recorded in the stadium. His accommodations were both minimal and imperial: he slept in a narrow bed in the corner of a small, windowless, harshly lit room of painted cinder blocks, in a building that seats seventy thousand people, with a roof that can open to form a circle against the sky.

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Saxon, in the Ando house. He noted, “It’s funny—and not funny, in a way—to say, ‘I’m the man who single-handedly destroyed this architectural masterpiece.’ But I pretty much did.”Photograph courtesy Tony Saxon

Later that summer, after a second concert in Atlanta and one in Chicago—where the centerpiece of the staging was a replica of the sixteen-hundred-square-foot house in which he’d spent much of his childhood—Ye released “Donda.” (The album was named for his late mother.) He also bought the Sachs House.

His intention, always, was to reimagine it. Up to then, Ye’s architectural achievements had been mixed. Despite his design literacy, his access to half of the world’s best architects, and his almost limitless funds, he had never built an enduring, finished structure from the ground up. (And in September, 2019, he demolished the prototype domes in Calabasas after the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works started asking about permits.) But he was pleased with what he’d been able to do in Hidden Hills. There, playing the role of producer, or curator, he’d shaped “an iconic home that informs a lot of other people’s homes,” as he put it in 2020. (That’s fair: Kardashian has three hundred and sixty-two million Instagram followers.) Ye admired Ando, and wanted an Ando, for reasons that at the time may have included spousal competitiveness, but he didn’t love this Ando. Kulapat Yantrasast, who later discussed the matter with Ye, told me, “To be honest, he did not like the house—he did not like the interior.”


Soon after Ye bought the house, someone representing him called Ron Radziner. Ye wanted to meet on Malibu Road the next day. Radziner was unavailable, so he dispatched two colleagues. The house they saw that morning was just as they’d left it, eight years earlier. Ye welcomed them and introduced them to James Turrell, who has a long white beard. According to the visitors, Turrell, describing the house as a work of art, said, “There’s nothing for me to do here.”

But Ye detailed improvements that he wanted Radziner’s firm to make. These included removing the cabinetry and replacing the stairs with ramps. Radziner told me that, when he heard of these directives, he said to himself, “This is crazy. If someone wants everything different, just go build something else.” Radziner knew Turrell a little and e-mailed him. Turrell called right back. Radziner recalled Turrell saying, “Kanye’s capable of doing good work. But I think what you have to do is just put it to him: ‘These are the things we’re willing to do. And these are the things we’re not.’ ”

Radziner told Ye that his firm would happily take out the cabinetry but was unable to do much more. Ye didn’t reply.

When Censori summoned Saxon back to the house, a few hours after he’d left it, he was exhausted. “I stink, I haven’t showered for two days,” he recalled. “I’m a lunatic.”

He drove back to Malibu, arriving in the early afternoon. Ye was at the house; it had been a few weeks since his rebuff by Radziner. According to Saxon, Ye told him, “I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re like a hurricane! I like you. I like your style.” As they walked through the stripped rooms, Ye kept asking, “You got this out? You did this?”

He began to describe his plans for the house. Saxon asked, “Are you telling me this hypothetically, or do you want me to do it?” Ye wanted him to do it. As Saxon saw it, “He was so sick of everyone around him.” Saxon demurred; he didn’t have a company or a license. He was just a dude with a minivan and some stamina. “But he goes, ‘You can do it! Don’t give me that. You can do this! Don’t say no!’ ” Recalling this, Saxon laughed. “Some inspiring shit!”

Saxon warmed to Ye, and not just because of the flattery. “I’m not in any way familiar with his music,” he told me. “But I kind of got him. We are very similar in a lot of ways.” Saxon had been given his own bipolar diagnosis and detected in Ye some similar behaviors. Later, after they got to know each other a little, Saxon brought this up. “I’m, like, ‘Are you on medication for it? I just started taking it a couple of months ago, and it fucking helped me.’ ”

Ye suggested that Saxon wear black and told him to be discreet: there were no permits for work on the house. Saxon’s storytelling, like Ye’s, can digress, and his experience on Malibu Road, which lasted about six weeks, is now the subject of his lawsuit, which centers on alleged underpayment and a back injury. But the outline of events is clear, and many of the details are confirmed by photographs and messages archived on Saxon’s phone. Within a few days of that first meeting, Saxon had become something much closer to a project leader than to a day laborer. He helped assemble a small crew by enlisting people he knew and a few outside contractors who’d been working at the house when he showed up. Starting on the day he met Ye, Saxon didn’t go home for several weeks. He found a mattress at the house; a friend later brought him some clothing in a trash bag, and his guitar. Saxon began taking the house apart.


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A mattress where Tony Saxon, a construction worker, slept during the demolition of the Ando house’s interior.Photograph courtesy Tony Saxon

A coffee-table survey of Ando’s houses, to which Ando supplied a foreword, has the Sachs House on its cover. The photograph was taken at the top of the wide outdoor staircase. The photographer, facing the sea, was perhaps standing in the concrete hot tub. Below, on the house’s main level, is the little courtyard. To the left, two cylindrical stainless-steel chimney pipes, serving an indoor fireplace, run up the side of the house, rising several feet above the upper terrace. The chimneys seem to quote a similar crowning gesture at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

Saxon’s videos include one in which he’s helping topple one of the chimneys. Another shows someone swinging a hammer at a bathroom’s black-and-white marble walls. A third demonstrates how a handsome glass balustrade, the kind you’re almost bound to find in a modern museum, shatters into windshield fragments when you tap its corner with a sledgehammer. In a fourth, Saxon and another man are demolishing the hot tub with two jackhammers. “There was so much rebar in the concrete,” Saxon told me. “It was absolutely brutal.”

Saxon had been hired to carve an oceanside Turrell out of an angular fifty-seven-million-dollar Ando. Ye revealed to Saxon—although not all at once—that he wanted no kitchen, bathrooms, A.C., windows, light fixtures, or heating. He was intent on cutting off the water and the power (and removing the house’s cable and wiring, which ran through the concrete in plastic tubes). He talked of clarity, simplicity, and a kind of self-reliance. “He wanted everything to be his own doing,” Saxon told me. In one cheerful text from Ye to Saxon, in response to a report of the day’s demolition, he wrote, “Let’s gooooo . . . Simple fresh and cleeeeeean.”

Saxon says that he negotiated a fee of twenty thousand dollars a week and agreed to disburse additional funds to pay colleagues and buy materials. Initially, he slept in a corner of the main floor, beneath where the Condo once hung. The glass on the staircase side was gone, but the big ocean-facing windows were still intact, and the weather was mild. The spot gave him a view of the front door. Saxon felt exposed to possible intruders. Once, he had to chase out a couple of young Ye fans, who appeared to be live-streaming.

On Instagram, Saxon posted giddy, look-at-my-life content. In one such video, he sits on the wide indoor staircase, accompanying himself on the guitar in a resonant rendition of Smiley Lewis’s 1955 hit, “I Hear You Knocking.” A caption reads, “Acoustics are too good at my new friend’s house.” Another video is captioned, “I take rich people showers now.” His impulse to amass half-ironic selfies, taken against a preposterous backdrop of ocean and concrete, is understandable, and it’s one that he shared with the occupants of the Big Ando nearby. (Maria Bell, posting on Instagram around the same time: “Another album cover . . . My solo is entitled ‘Girl Brush your Hair.’ ”)

At first, Saxon saw a fair amount of Ye. One morning, before dawn, Ye drove Saxon and another worker to Home Depot, and then to McDonald’s, in a Lamborghini S.U.V. Some hours later, Ye announced that he was offended by how Saxon looked and smelled after a long day of labor, and took him to the Nobu hotel, in Malibu, where he had a room. He gave Saxon some clothes and ran a bath for him. “My jaw is, like, on the floor,” Saxon recalled. “He’s drawing the water. He goes, ‘You will never forget this moment.’ I said, ‘Damn right I will not.’ We were cracking up.”

On another day, Kardashian visited Malibu Road, with some of the children, or perhaps all four—Saxon isn’t sure. He recalled helping the kids find foam blocks, from the ramp project, to play with. He also said that one of his colleagues, arriving at the house, glanced at Kardashian and said, distractedly, “Oh, hello, Bianca.” (There is a resemblance.) After the family had left, Ye put his forehead on Saxon’s shoulder and groaned, “Why would your boy say that? She’s the most famous woman on earth!” Saxon, apologizing, said of his friend, “He’s old.” (A few weeks later, Kardashian hosted “Saturday Night Live,” which led to a relationship with the cast member Pete Davidson. Ye later threatened Davidson with violence.)

Over the next weeks, even as Saxon’s experience rewarded him with moments of exhilaration, as well as a considerable income, his sense that he could handle anything was increasingly tested. Before long, there was no kitchen in the house and nowhere else to keep food. Dust got into everything. Saxon and his colleagues knocked out all five bathrooms. Nighttime temperatures dropped. He had to placate the neighbors, who, he was relieved to learn, were rarely at home during the week, and he tried to remain invisible to city authorities: he couldn’t have a dumpster out front, and when the bathrooms were gone he had to hide a porta-potty. As Censori once patiently explained to Ye, in a group text where he’d shown impatience, “No permitting increases caution.” Saxon told me, “I was functioning like the sick-raccoon rock-and-roller that I am—just living off of Ensure and Red Bull.” (He contends that Ye insisted he stay at the house; others say that it was his choice.) Saxon felt trapped by his night-watchman role and slept poorly. A big wave would crash, he recalled, “and I’d think somebody was breaking into the house.” A seagull pecked at him. He recalled once waking to Ye standing over him and saying, “I thought you’d be working.”

By the end of October, demolition was largely complete. The process had been interrupted by only occasional moments of confusion. Once, Saxon thought that he was following Ye’s instructions by smashing up the fire pit in the courtyard. He sent Ye a photograph of the pit reduced to a circular stump. “This is not a good job brother,” Ye texted. He’d wanted Saxon to take out the living-room fireplace instead. It hardly mattered: all of it had to go.

The project was now starting to focus on additions and enhancements. Saxon found this phase more fraught; it required engineering—and some planning. What did Ye want? Writing to Censori, Saxon observed how odd it was that, “no matter how tight we are with Ye,” they remained unsure of his intentions. He added, “It’s always an adventure.” Censori replied, “LMAOOO I know isn’t it crazy.” Saxon developed a solidarity with Censori born of these conditions. He encouraged Ye to have her take on a larger role at Malibu Road; in turn, she helped Saxon compose texts to Ye, who had complained of verbiage. (“I don’t read long text,” he texted.) Saxon and Censori once had a jokey exchange about marrying, to allow her to stay in the U.S. legally. Censori: “I’ll get the best wedding dress.” She added a bride emoji. Saxon: “Fine but we need to have an Elvis impersonator.” Censori: “Obviously!!!!”


Ye could become distracted. On the visit to Home Depot to buy tools, he’d spent an age trying to learn who had lined up plant pots in an appealing way. A sales assistant shrugged. “Well, I want their number,” Ye said, according to Saxon. “That’s how I want my plants to look.” (They didn’t buy any tools.) While the Sachs House was being transformed, Ye was busy: making post-release changes to “Donda”; running a fashion empire; preparing to open a private school, the Donda Academy, west of L.A.; and reviving his Sunday Service concerts, built around a gospel choir, which he’d begun a few years earlier. On October 28th, the Friday before the first of these concerts, which was to be held at a downtown warehouse that had been rented for Ye’s Gap business, Censori texted Saxon, “Wowwww so I’m on a 17 hour car ride from Portugal to Paris with Ye.” (Ye has said that he couldn’t fly directly to Paris that week because he’d received only one covid vaccination shot.) The road trip was “slightly torture,” she said, but she was grateful to have been included. She asked Saxon whether he knew anyone who could procure a “giant sphere.” A new text: “By Sunday.” She meant for the L.A. concert. She then sent a photograph of “Unseen Seen,” by James Turrell, installed in a museum in Tasmania. It’s a sphere that accommodates two people at a time: after signing a waiver, they lie on their backs and are bombarded by colored light. That weekend’s Sunday Service—attended by, among others, Marilyn Manson, Justin Bieber, and Tony Saxon—appears to have been held without a sphere.

A few weeks earlier, Saxon had shown Ye a part of the Malibu Road house that he’d never seen before. In the garage, Saxon opened a hatch in the floor, then led Ye down a ladder into a space that, although on the same level as the laundry and the lower-floor bedrooms, couldn’t be accessed from there, and was basement-like in its lack of natural light. As Saxon recalled it, he explained to Ye, “Look, there’s your water purifier. There’s your A.C. systems, there’s your boiler, there’s your water softener. You know, this is the guts of the house.” Ye, looking around, replied, “This is going to be my bomb shelter. This is going to be my Batcave.”

Ye’s hopes for the house, at least at this moment, call to mind the Atlanta stadium setup. There’d be a cell-like capsule to provide for some basic human needs, from which one could emerge into a big, semipublic space that was open to the sky. This was a vision less of a home than of a refuge within a striking concrete art work. One of the people on the project had discussions with disaster-proofing specialists. Ye sent Saxon various drawings showing an arrangement of amenities within a small space. One image contained spherical and ovoid objects—“cooker,” “pump,” “fridge”—but no mattress. Another included three crates, a “flat pack shower,” and a “robot platform.” Ye wrote, “Let’s make this in real life.” Saxon texted, “I love this—it’s genius,” but he had no idea what he was meant to do. There were similarly desultory exchanges about recycling rainwater and cutting a hole in the floor to make a toilet.

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