Celebrities Like Beyoncé and Jay-Z Have a New Obsession: An 81-Year-Old Japanese Architect
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Celebrities Like Beyoncé and Jay-Z Have a New Obsession: An 81-Year-Old Japanese Architect

Tadao Ando has developed a cult following among high-profile, uber-wealthy buyers

Fri, May 26, 2023 8:43amGrey Clock 8 min

These days, the hottest must-have among the super wealthy isn’t an Hermès purse, a designer Doodle dog or even Ozempic.

It is a concrete home designed by an 81-year-old Japanese architect.

Celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are flocking to homes designed by Tadao Ando, a self-taught, Osaka-based architect. Ando’s homes aren’t just rare, but also affordable only for the very rich: Numbering fewer than 20 in the U.S., they are generally defined by their use of reinforced architectural concrete, which makes construction far more expensive than in typical homes. Clients must also be willing to go to great lengths to bring his vision to life.

In recent years, Ando has developed something of a cult following, with his devotees describing him in ethereal terms: master, poet, genius, icon. They travel to Japan for an audience with the Pritzker Prize winner, and beg him to design their homes.

“It was like working with God,” said Leonard Steinberg, a real-estate agent with Compass in New York, who worked on sales at 152 Elizabeth Street, a boutique condominium designed by Ando in the mid-2010s. “There was definitely a sense that we were dealing with an iconic figure of our time.”

A recent string of mega deals has brought Ando’s work into the spotlight and dramatically driven up prices for his homes, according to industry insiders. Most recently, Beyoncé and Jay-Z paid about $200 million for an oceanfront Ando-designed mansion in Malibu, Calif., according to people familiar with the sale. The blufftop house, measuring about 42,000 square feet, was designed by Ando for prominent art collectors Bill and Maria Bell, who spent a dozen years constructing what Maria Bell said is a “sculpture as much as it is a building.” The deal, which closed May 22, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a home in California. Jay-Z and Beyoncé didn’t respond to requests for comment.

 Japanese architect Tadao Ando posing at the National Art Center in Tokyo. (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

They weren’t the first celebrities to eye the house. West, now known as Ye, was planning on purchasing it for an even higher price last year, before his erratic behaviour and antisemitic comments derailed his earnings, according to people familiar with the situation. West couldn’t be reached for comment.

The purchase would have been West’s second Ando home. In 2021, the rapper purchased a $57.25 million Ando property on the beach in Malibu from former Wall Street heavyweight Richard Sachs.

That same year, Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield and his wife, Away co-founder Jen Rubio, paid roughly $40 million to buy an elaborate Ando-designed ranch near Santa Fe, N.M., from designer Tom Ford. Known as the Cerro Pelon Ranch, the roughly 20,000-acre property has a house perched on an enormous reflecting pool.

West’s former wife, the reality star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian, posted on Instagram about working with Ando on a home near Palm Desert, Calif. In 2019, the Skims co-founder paid $6.3 million for roughly 1.8 acres of land in the Madison Club in La Quinta, according to property records, and has since applied for a building permit for a new house with a pool and spa. Kardashian recently visited Ando’s office in Japan to make finishing touches to the design before breaking ground, she wrote in an April post.

“Met with the master himself, Tadao Ando to review and discuss a dream project we have been working on for the past two years,” she said, posting photos of the two of them in his office, with drawings of the spaceship-shaped house on a table between them. Kardashian declined to comment.

Ando’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Born in Osaka in 1941, Ando had a brief stint as a boxer before turning to architecture. Largely self-taught, he opened his eponymous firm in 1969, according to the firm’s website. While early works included tiny homes in Japan, Ando became famous for cultural institutions like the Church of the Light in Osaka, which opened in 1989, and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, which opened in 2001. He won the Pritzker Prize in 1995.

“For us in architecture, Ando has been one of the truly biggest names for a long time now,” said Seng Kuan, an architecture professor at Harvard University and the University of Tokyo. Architecture has become a luxury item collected by 1% of the 1%, Kuan said, noting that a “rarefied subset of architectural masterpieces…are being collected as works of art.” Ando is among the handful of living architects whose work falls into that category, he said.

Sometimes described as Brutalist, Ando’s homes are typically hulking, sparse structures with smooth edges, water features and windows that frame the views. Admirers say they evoke an almost spiritual, Zen-like experience in their simplicity, while others say the concrete is too hard and cold to be liveable.

Due to the higher costs of concrete construction, Ando’s clients typically pay multiples of the usual price of construction to build the homes he has designed. Moreover, Ando doesn’t simply design the home and then hand over the plans, clients said: He is involved in every step of the process, down to the landscaping and even furnishings.

“You don’t just get a sketch and build it,” Steinberg said. “You have to build it his way.”

Ando clients are more art patrons than homeowners, and the resulting home becomes “an art form that you inhabit,” said architect Leo Marmol, who has worked on two Ando projects.

“It is about pushing design ideals to a level that is not normal,” he said. “The client has to be willing to embrace that, and look at the relationship with Mr. Ando as working with a true master.”

Marmol sees the recent spate of mega sales as evidence of Hollywood’s longstanding relationship with significant architecture, which he said is “a way to publicly make a statement about your celebrity status.”

Not everyone embraces Ando’s aesthetic. When it came to marketing the seven condos at 152 Elizabeth, the sales team worked with an interior designer to soften the look with more textured touches, lighting and wood accents, in order to appeal to a wider audience. “It had to be warmed up,” Steinberg said. Still, Ando had to sign off on the interiors, or “we would have gone to Ando jail,” he said with a laugh. The building sold out after about four years of sales, property records show.

Ando’s brand of concrete construction is challenging, Marmol said, especially in California, where construction must meet guidelines for earthquakes. Building on the sand in Malibu is especially tricky, he said.

“The salt and the corrosive nature of the air isn’t friendly to metal, which is a major structural component in concrete,” he said. “The rebar has to be specially treated and handled in such a way that the corrosion can’t impact it.”

Marmol estimated that building with concrete to Ando’s specifications costs two to three times more than traditional high-end home construction.

Amit Khurana of Sumaida + Khurana, which developed 152 Elizabeth, said they tested each truckload of concrete for quality control, and turned away more trucks than they accepted. “There was a specialist on site who would sift through the concrete with his bare hands,” he said.

Sachs, a longtime Ando devotee, told The Wall Street Journal in 2020 that his Malibu home took seven years to build. Construction required about 1,200 tons of concrete, 200 tons of steel reinforcement and 12 massive pylons driven more than 60 feet into the sand. “This isn’t just a house. This is like a Picasso cubist painting, very important and very rare,” Sachs said at the time.

Ando is known to have rejected prospective clients, despite their hefty budgets. “A considerable range of people come to my firm to request my design services,” he was quoted as saying in the book “Tadao Ando: Living with Light” by Philip Jodidio. “My decision to accept their projects depends mainly on their personality and aura.”

In other words, “a billionaire could come in the door tomorrow and offer him a billion dollars to design his house, and that wouldn’t motivate him,” said L.A. real-estate agent and developer Tyrone McKillen, who has worked with Ando. “It has to be close to his heart for him to work with you.”

To convince Ando to design 152 Elizabeth, Khurana said, he showed one of Ando’s associates the site on a rainy night in New York, and then flew to Osaka the following week to meet the architect himself. He brought Ando a gift—a book about Muhammad Ali—and once Ando sketched an idea for the New York condo, Khurana said he refused to leave the office without a commitment to move forward.

Many of Ando’s clients are art collectors, said Kuan, noting that concrete is neutral enough to complement modern art.

Two such collectors are Bill and Maria Bell, the sellers of the Malibu home purchased by Beyoncé and Jay-Z. The Bells paid $14.5 million in 2003 for a roughly 8-acre parcel of land in Malibu, according to records. They had been admirers of Ando’s work for years before they hired him to build a house on the site, Maria Bell said. “[The site] had this incredible feng shui, if one believes in that,” she said. “It spoke to Mr. Ando.”

She said the architect visited Malibu and they traveled to Osaka, where he presented them with the design.

“Certainly we asked ourselves, would we really be capable of going there and living in an Ando home?” she said. On top of laborious construction, “it’s also a daunting idea to live in something that can seem to many people like a Brutalist structure.”

But they were reassured once they met with Ando, she said, when it became clear his vision for the site was “exactly right.”

The six-bedroom house took 12 years to build and is supported by concrete piles and footing, said Kulapat Yantrasast, the project architect on the home. Ando also designed many pieces of furniture for the home—minimalist wood dining tables, beds and chairs—that will remain in the house, Maria Bell said.

Now that the home is completed, the minimalist materials and use of light create a calm and quiet vibe, Maria Bell said. The windows frame vistas to create a connection with nature, as does a reflecting pond that visually links the house to the horizon. “On grey days, the concrete seems more grey and Zen,” she said. “On blue sky days, it’s dazzling and spectacular.”

She declined to comment on the sale of the home, but said over the years, “the people that have responded to the house have been artists, whether visual or performing. I think that really Ando is also an artist as well as an architect.”

Joey and Ragnar Horn, who both work in finance, jumped at the chance to buy a pied-à-terre at 152 Elizabeth in New York in 2015, Joey Horn said. The couple, who live in London, were living in Oslo at the time.

Joey Horn said she had been a fan of Ando’s since she was a graduate student in the 1990s. During a visit to New York, she stumbled upon the Elizabeth Street site, which is one of only a few condo projects Ando has done. “I called my husband and said, ‘We have to buy an apartment in this building. [Ando] doesn’t do residential buildings—this is probably the only chance we have,’” she said.

The couple paid $14.65 million for the fifth-floor unit, records show. The living room has concrete columns and floor-to-ceiling windows.

A few years ago, the Horns also purchased a house in Williamstown, Mass., near their alma mater, Williams College. The house is across the street from the Clark Art Institute building Ando designed in 2014, she said. The couple was briefly in touch with Ando’s office about building a house on the site. The next step was to go to Japan to meet with him, but life got in the way. Joey Horn said the timing was wrong and “then the trail went cold.” She said they are acutely aware that Ando is 81 and time is limited. “Our dream is still to have Ando do something there,” she said. “We haven’t given up.”

Homeowners who have invested in building or buying Andos have been rewarded financially. Tom Ford’s ranch garnered interest from buyers around the world who wouldn’t normally have eyed a home in Santa Fe, said listing agent Kevin Bobolsky.

“Tadao Ando put Santa Fe on the map internationally in a big way,” he said.

Long after the property has been sold, Bobolsky said he still hears from interested parties.

“At least once a month, I get some billionaire that’s looking to lease it for an event,” he said.

McKillen, one of the agents who worked on the Malibu sale to West in 2021, said he and his colleagues got “laughed at” when they put a $75 million price tag on the property, but ultimately felt vindicated by the final deal. The final sales price clocked in at more than $14,000 a square foot, one of highest sums ever paid in the country by that measure.

McKillen said he attributed much of that value to Ando’s association with the house.

“Obviously, being on the Pacific Ocean has an impact, but the real value was in it being an Ando design,” he said. “There are lots of properties that sell on the ocean for $4,000 or $5,000 a foot. We got three times that.”


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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