Meet the Minds Behind YEEZY HOME

When Kanye West announced his foray into architecture, he tweeted that his aim was to make the world a better place. Soon after, several experimental domes were under construction at his Calabasas property, which looked noticeably similar to the iconic huts from the Star Wars planet of Tatooine. More than just visually pleasing structures, the idea was part of a low-income housing project that the creative polymath hoped would kickstart his architectural career. But just weeks after the project took form, the structures were demolished for violating city regulations.

After two years of being on hiatus, Ye is eager to reignite the initiative and has brought along three architects who share his vision. Abe Salman, Bianca Censori, and Tanil Raif — the minds behind YEEZY HOME — sat down with HYPEBEAST in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles to talk about their backgrounds, aspirations, and what we can expect from YEEZY going forward.

The three have been working closely together for just over a year, though their dynamic is effortless and their ability to seamlessly bounce ideas off of each other makes it seem as though they’ve known each other for decades. And while each creative hails from a different corner of the world, they are connected through shared interests that include music, fashion and exploring how the spaces we inhabit shape who we are.

Like many architects, the medium of film serves as a muse for visualizing concepts. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) describes in the book, FORMGIVING, that architecture is “a creative art form” that is similar to “the long-form fiction of film.” Both movies and buildings require massive budgets, multiple teams and many years to create. Having once worked at BIG, Salman brings this penchant for free-thinking when he collaborates with Censori, Raif, Ye and the rest of the team at YEEZY.

The team’s approach is to inject a humanist touch that counters the often rigid and taboo ordinances that dominate the industry, reawakening our senses to the space we spend 90% of our lives in. Check out the full interview below:

HYPEBEAST: As you all come from different places, can you each talk me through your background, interests, and what made you gravitate towards architecture?

Bianca: I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. As a child I was consistently drawn to creative endeavours, mostly artistic. I always wanted to be a sculptor and to me, architecture is the union of art and pragmatics. It is the grandest artistic gesture that we can place onto the earth. I was drawn to it, purely, as a shift in artistic scale.

Abe: For me, I have this weird dynamic where I was born in the Middle East, but raised in the U.S. So I spent a lot of time in both Jordan and the suburbs of Chicago. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always had a fascination with the differences in the way a home was — like, a suburban home in the U.S. versus a big metropolis in the Middle East. Those differences allowed me to open up my mind to see the home in a different way, whereas those who are only stuck in a particular part of the world see it as.
It was really interesting to see how a home can actually craft the way someone grows up, how they live and how their day-to-day lives are a holistic approach to a timeline to their lives. Those differences allowed me to be fascinated by architecture.

Tanil: Growing up in Cyprus at a young age, I was very intrigued by the different styles of the built environment. Cyprus is a very interesting place because it’s in Europe, but there’s this culture from the Middle East, along with Colonial architecture, Venetian, Roman — it’s basically a clash of everything. I was very driven to the different intricacies of the city. I always knew I wanted to do something within this field.

“The paradigm shift lies in humanizing design.”

What fueled your interest in design?

B: As a child, I spent a lot of time with my aunt who would consistently expose me to an array of art, film and architecture. She really drove my love for design and instilled in me an eye for aesthetics that I was able to nurture into adulthood.

A: I’d say being exposed to pretty phenomenal things early on. For instance, my favorite place in the world is Petra. Being introduced to that at such a young age and being a history nerd, I’d always look at Petra or the [Egyptian] pyramids, just because I was interested in how people could come to create something at that scale. That is what really sparked my interest in this profession and questioned what design is really about.
Petra was a civilization of 30,000 people from different parts of the world who all came together. They all were aligned on how they wanted to live — so the city itself became a manifestation of that. A city literally built into a cliffside. To this day, we don’t even know how they were able to achieve it. But it was designed and engineered to the scale of how they would collect rainwater, and those kinds of things are how history influenced the built environment. So that pairing — of history and the built environment — is why I like design so much.

T: Traveling and exploring. Another element that fuels my interest in design is how it’s integrated into technology and the methods and how they evolve within our lifetime.

When Kanye announced YEEZY HOME, he tweeted that the aim was to make the world a better place. As the team tasked with constructing this reality, can you elaborate on this further?

B: I believe the paradigm shift lies in humanizing design. The ability to recognize what it truly is to be a human being living within a built environment. Understanding the needs we have as a collective and designing for that in the most simplistic and functional way is how I feel we can make that shift.

A: Changing the world is ultimately the goal for any architect. That is a general principle that any architect can speak to, but it’s how you aim to do it.

We have the civic duty to essentially provide the basic necessity of shelter for any human within civilization. That’s how I approach how to change the world. It’s why I’ve been fascinated with homes since I was a kid — from the primitive hut to McMansions — the home is what someone really personalizes as their basic dwelling, their shelter.

“A building can curate the user’s perception to the outside world.”

What is it about movie sets that architects can learn from and implement into the real world?

B: Sets are an exercise in curating the viewer’s perception. You are able to present what is resolved and hide what is unresolved. I think architects in their nature already do that — namely in their use of windows. A building can curate the user’s perception of the outside world.

A: When you approach architecture on what society already is, you’re pushed back on by the stigmas and parameters that society has already built up. What’s interesting about movie sets is that they’re extremely fictional and not tied to a zeitgeist. So that frees that mind from the control and programming that we’ve been so accustomed to through years of learning. A movie set unravels all that and allows all those designers to say, ‘okay, we have full liberty in the way we want something to look — a city, a building, a tower.’

T: We actually reference a lot of movies when we work. In real life, there are so many constraints like codes and capitalistic, cultural and social constraints that you have to be aware of. Whereas, the world of a set, all of those things are set free.

A: And they’re highly curated. Every scene in a movie is so prescribed that it’s almost like living life through a set of frames. So that frame or one moment is super important to convey every type of emotion you want to get out of someone. So that’s really powerful and a huge responsibility when you’re making a movie and has a lot of overlap when it comes to architecture.

“Plasticity gives form, receives form and destroys form which is the manifestation of the new form itself.”

Outside of YEEZY, can you each describe a few projects you’ve worked on?

A: I’ve worked on a lot of personal projects outside of YEEZY. I’d say two of my favorites are a project that I worked on, which was to try and tackle the problem of housing today. The housing crisis is almost at a global scale. I have a project, which I titled, “Face Value,” that talks about how an architect can investigate the envelope as an element of a project and how housing can be the engine of that. And what contemporary architectural envelopes should be like, function as, be seen as, what types of materials, their socio-political critiques.
I have another project I am excited about, which I am calling the “Elemental Home (EH).” It is an approach to envisioning a home that is essential in its form and program necessity. In its essence, EH is a simplification of life and an exaggerated attention to a connection with nature.

T: My favorite project outside of YEEZY was an art installation for Burning Man. It developed during COVID, so it never got executed. The concept was inspired by Salvador Dalí. When you think of the desert, you think of his work. We figured out a way to make this inflatable sculpture that every day of the event would look like it was deflating and melting. So it was a commentary on time and space — which tied into the ideas that Dalí was visually representing.

Something that I’m currently working on that I’m also excited about, is a house project that is meant to be an Airbnb in Joshua Tree. Right now, I’m developing concepts with partners of mine exploring affordable construction, but looking into ways we can inform the space like a cave. It’s a space that feels very primitive.

B: A favorite project of mine was a concept home I designed through the lens of plasticity. Plasticity is a theory by philosopher Catherine Malabou, and the term gives form, receives form and destroys form, which is the manifestation of the new form itself. The home was placed in a rural setting and existed only as I designed within a fragment of time. It was then encompassed by the plastic releasing me of any control as a designer.
I was also beginning to get into a lot of metalwork before I moved to America. I was using machinery like laser cutters and CNC to fabricate furniture.

“Sustainability is the union between built form and what the earth naturally provides.”

Can you talk about this trend, where buildings and spaces are going from so future-facing to almost primitive in appearance?

B: The desire to return to the primitive is not just seen in the design world. As a collective, I believe we are moving away from what we anticipated the future to be and returning to more simplistic applications of living, holistically.

A: When we look at that, it’s very visual. But the key takeaway for projects that try to achieve that, at least the successful ones — their aim is not so much to look simplistic, but ideally ask on ‘how can life be simplified?’ The by-product of that is that it looks simple.

That’s why we coined it as ‘Neo-Primitive.’ I think to myself, ‘It’s got to be somewhere between ancient and alien.’ Because then, you’re removing all the man-made motifs out of it. It’s not going to be modern, it’s not going to be contemporary or classical, but somewhere between ancient and alien.

How can we simplify the way a home works? How can we simplify the way we work? How can we simplify the way we dine and cook?

We look at the programmatic elements and we find ways to make lives easier. The by-product is that it’s a simpler setting.

T: I think people are tired of the chaos of this contemporary life. Everyone is leaning towards that aesthetic. I also believe that Kanye has been really influential in showing the world that aesthetic as well. When people see, they learn. Even with fashion, all the forms of art synthesize with each other. If you show fashion in that language, an architect can still look at that and learn.
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