Throughout his career, Kanye West, who last year legally changed his name to Ye, has collaborated with designers to realize his vision for music, apparel, stage sets, and architecture. In 2007, he hired minimalist architect Claudio Silvestrin to design his Manhattan penthouse and worked with Virgil Abloh for the cover of West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In more recent years, West has started his own experimental design agency, dabbled in affordable housing, worked with major global brands for his Yeezy fashion line, spoke to students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (standing atop tables) and SCI-Arc, and collaborated with architects Oana Stănescu and Dong Ping-Wong.
After a recent spate of bizarre and inflammatory comments made by West about the Jewish community, including on social media and during a two-part interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson (though much of West’s antisemitic tirade was edited out by the program), many of these relationships are coming to an end.
In recent days, there have been a string of major business and creative departures from the Ye orbit, including Anna Wintour and Vogue, Spain-founded fashion house Balenciaga, talent agency CAA, and entertainment company MRC, which announced yesterday it was scrapping a completed documentary on West. Most notably, Adidas announced this morning that it was ending its highly lucrative partnership with West, effective immediately, following days of mounting public pressure. As reported by Forbes, the German sportswear behemoth stands to lose $650 million by dropping the wildly popular Yeezy brand. Gap also announced that it is removing all Yeezy merchandise from its stores, following the termination last month of what was supposed to be a 10-year partnership.
West has also worked with celebrated Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati on a planned creative campus at the troubled multihyphenate hip hop artist’s sprawling Wyoming ranch. Today, the architect shared an Instagram Story via his account valerioolgiati in response to current events. The Story, which has since been deleted, read in full: “My architecture is created honestly and without any prejudice. I can not and do not want to take it back. I stand with the Jewish community and reject any form of hate speech.”
While Olgiati’s impressive underground scheme remains unbuilt, the architect had in the past days shared illustrations of the project which have been deleted. (Earlier posts, from as recent as September 11, remain visible with the geotag of “Wyoming” and no mention of his problematic client.) Prior to today’s activities, Olgiati faced criticism from online commenters for continuing to promote his projects with West and for reportedly blocking Instagram users who have called him out.
AN reached out to Olgiati’s namesake studio seeking further comment from the architect on West and their creative partnership in light of recent events. He declined to speak on the matter.
Olgiati’s work with West on the Wyoming project—a vast subterranean artists’ colony of sorts—has garnered considerable media attention from a range of publications including the New York Times. Speaking to KALEIDOSCOPE, he described his working relationship with West: “I am the creator and he is the producer. Kanye is also like a coach, almost. His radicality cannot be beaten. He is a great artist and an absolutely gifted entrepreneur at the same time. Everything around him is about creating and creativity.”
Although he rarely speaks about issues of mental health, West previously revealed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. While there have been past calls for critics to have compassion for West, to be sure mental health struggles do not excuse hateful speech and behavior toward the Jewish community or other groups. (West has previously come under fire for making numerous anti-Black remarks, including that slavery was a “choice.” He also appeared at a Paris Fashion Week show earlier this month wearing a White Lives Matter t-shirt.) Considering his outsized platform, Kanye’s words have an outsized impact, and these words have yielded disappointing results.
In the midst of the ongoing uproar prompted by his antisemitic diatribes (which prompted temporary suspensions on both Instagram and Twitter), design news arrived that West has announced further architecture- and planning-related endeavors, namely a vision for a mini-city dubbed the “Yecosystem” populated by Ye-branded homes and stores.
AN has reported on various past architecture passion projects from West, including a quartet of dome-shaped, Star Wars–inspired, affordable housing prototypes erected—and subsequently demolished—on the Calabasas, California, property he shared with ex-wife Kim Kardashian.
As for today’s Adidas news, it was welcomed by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who wrote in a statement:
“This is a very positive outcome. It illustrates that antisemitism is unacceptable and creates consequences. Without a doubt, Adidas has done the right thing by cutting ties with Ye after his vicious antisemitic rants. We were proud to see many joined ADL’s campaign, #RunAwayfromHate, that pressured Adidas toward this decision, including the thousands of people who sent emails, the dozens of celebrities who spoke up, and the prominent brands who cut ties. Taken together, all these elements sent an unambiguous signal that moved the company to take action. In the end, Adidas’ action sends a powerful message that antisemitism and bigotry have no place in society.”
AN will update readers if there are further architecture- and design-related news regarding West’s activities.