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How Is Kanye West’s Low-Income Housing Going to Work?

Images of a prefabricated concrete structure for Yeezy Home are beautiful, but don’t tell us much about how West will meet the challenges of high design on a mass scale.

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Jun 4 2018, 6:24pm
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On May 6, Kanye West announced on Twitter his plans to launch a new brand offshoot: an architecture firm called Yeezy Home, with the goal of “mak[ing] the world better.” It was a couple weeks after West had tweeted images of his new California home—worth $60 million, according to Kris Jenner, who was indignant that People had originally reported its worth at $20 million—designed by Belgian architect Axel Vervoordt. In the photos, you can see that the mansion’s rooms are filled with either nothing, or at least eight white Jeanneret chairs, which can sell for around $16,000 apiece. On the same day, West tweeted an image of a signed “Make America Great Again” hat and called Donald Trump his brother. (He later added: “I don't agree with everything Trump does.”)

It’s the wrong instinct to try to make all of this add up to a neat picture, but on May 6, it felt unlikely that a Kanye West-helmed architecture practice would be designed for anyone other than the super-rich: his home is a mansion, after all, and he’d just aligned himself with Donald Trump, a former NYC real estate tycoon who capitalized on the city’s debt to build big, beautiful golden towers and who made Ben Carson, a man who doesn’t really like public housing, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But yesterday, West took us by surprise: his friend and collaborator Jalil Peraza posted on Instagram renderings of a low concrete structure he described as a “low income housing scheme” and listed West, architects Petra Kustrin and Nejc Škufca, and industrial designer Vadik Marmeladov as collaborators. Today, Hypebeast reported that Yeezy Home is testing out affordable housing, called Social Housing Project.

Only three images are available—and the project seems to be in a stage too early for details on the buildings’ price, or where they would be located. The prefabricated concrete structures resemble Yeezy Studios in Calabasas, described as “post-core”: a blend of Brutalism and postmodernism, the pared-down home features a Japanese rock garden and a peristyle courtyard, and a Le Corbusier-esque ribbon windows set into a sloped ceiling.

It’s beautiful, and you can imagine it working as affordable housing—Brutalism’s utopian goal was to build well-designed spaces from inexpensive materials like rough-finished concrete (béton brut, the movement’s namesake), and West has expressed his support for democratizing design before. But 20th century architecture has taught us, again and again, that the most ambitiously designed housing projects live or die on economic forces and public policy, and that the fix for an affordable housing shortage doesn’t come from the market. It’s cool to imagine what these spaces would look like, but the real challenge—making well-designed houses cheap and solid enough to mass-produce—is time-consuming, hard, and usually involves socialism. It will be interesting to see how West and his team will tackle that question: hopefully, they’ll do it with better political allies than Donald Trump.

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