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August 01 2012

Straight outta Hamptons: hip-hop's architectural roots

Hip-hop has great design pedigree. So why is Jay-Z and Beyoncé's summer home so naff?

Given the hip-hop elite's affiliation with prestige brands – from Cristal to Courvoisier, from Louis Vuitton to Lamborghini – you'd think they'd be similarly discerning when it comes to architecture. But that's not always the case, especially when it comes to the biggest stars of all. This week, details emerged of the Hamptons holiday home being rented by Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Taste-wise, it's not exactly as cutting-edge as their music: a sprawling modern mansion the size of a hotel, in the traditional "shingle style" so beloved of the Hamptons and its moneyed clientele: big, colonial-looking, with a bit of wood and classical detailing.

You can see why it appealed, though. Dubbed The Sandcastle, the 31,000 sq ft property is on sale for US$43.5m (£27.8m), although the couple are reportedly renting it for $400,000 a month. It has all the luxuries you can think of – 60ft pool, sunken tennis court, bowling alley, home cinema with "interactive seats" – plus some that would never occur to you, such as an underwater pool stereo and a combination squash-and-basketball-court (with moving walls). Then there's a "children's performing area" to get their six-month-old daughter Ivy Blue started. "I was raised in the projects, roaches and rats," Jay-Z once sang. "Smokers out back sellin' they mama's sofa." Ivy Blue probably won't be doing the same.

Jay-Z is living the American Dream, even if he was once a fierce critic of it. But then hip-hop has often veered into architectural criticism (music's more lucrative, guys). Rap is constantly responding to its environment, which is invariably high-density urban public housing – in Jay-Z's case, Brooklyn's Marcy Houses. There's rarely anything positive to say and countless hip-hop classics – from Grandmaster Flash's The Message onwards ("Can't take the smell, can't take the noise/ Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice") – have essentially catalogued the failures of urban planning. Without bad architecture, hip-hop might never have happened.

Although Jay-Z named his biggest album after a British design magazine  (unless he was thinking of a different Blueprint), it's Kanye West, his partner on the Watch the Throne album, who shows a keener design sensibility. West was a judge for style mag Wallpaper's annual awards in 2009 and regularly posted about architecture and design on his entertaining (and now sadly defunct) blog, enthusing about everything from Herzog and de Meuron in Tribeca ("GONE BE NIIIIICE!!") to concrete modernist houses in Mexico ("So amazing … so amazing!"). This January, West announced he was setting up his own multi-disciplinary design company, DONDA, with 22 departments. "We can collectively effect the world trough design," West tweeted. "We need to pick up where steve jobs left off." We've seen few results so far, though at this year's Cannes film festival West unveiled a seven-screen movie pavilion in a bespoke pyramidal structure designed by Dutch architectural supremos OMA.

There are more. NERD's Pharrell Williams last year designed a limited edition fixed wheel "gangsta track" bike (in lurid yellow) with France's Domeau & Pérès, and is now working on a sustainable youth centre in his hometown, Virginia Beach in Virginia. Topping them all, and favouring the "less is more" route, is Ice Cube, who has progressed from tooled-up criticism of Compton in his NWA days, into a deeper appreciation of the architecture of Los Angeles.

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In his video about the celebrated Eames House, a landmark in Modern architecture, he rails against McMansions in favour of Charles and Ray Eames's utilitarian marvel, drawing parallels between its off-the-shelf components and hip-hop sampling ("they was doing mash-ups befo' mash-ups existed"). "Coming from south central Los Angeles," he says, "you gotta use what you got and make the best of it. What I love about the Eameses is how resourceful they are."

Before he became a rapper, Cube studied architectural drafting. Perhaps Beyoncé and Jay-Z should commission him to come up with something a bit more hip-hop in the Hamptons. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 26 2012

Hunt launches London 2012 Festival

From a bouncy-castle Stonehenge to Jay-Z, the Olympic festival will feature 12,000 events at 900 venues across the UK

It will include a bouncy-castle Stonehenge, a retrospective of British women's comedy, extreme sports choreography, a world record improv attempt and, organisers of the London 2012 Festival sincerely hope, the loudest national ringing of bells that has ever been heard anywhere. There will also be a cast of stars and artists that run from Damon Albarn to Jay-Z through names that will probably never again appear on the same bill including Tracey Emin, Stephen Fry, George Benjamin, Mike Leigh and Rihanna.

The £52m London 2012 Festival, which launched on Thursday, is the culmination of the cultural olympiad and is meant as a showstopper – a blinding array of arts events across the UK between 21 June and 9 September, staged in the spirit of "once in a lifetime".

The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, launched the festival and its 140-page brochure at the Tower of London, and while he did not have the demeanour of a minister under siege, he spoke only about the programme and did not hang around to take questions.

"This festival is a celebration of the remarkable culture that we have in our country," said Hunt. "And in this very special year when we will be in the global spotlight as never before in our lifetimes, this festival encapsulates all that we are proud of. The range is extraordinary. There will, absolutely, be something for everyone."

Ruth Mackenzie, who was brought in two years ago to get a somewhat listing ship back on course, said it would be the largest cultural celebration of our lifetime. "I am confident that we are going to see some quite remarkable work and work that we're never going to forget.

"The challenge for our festival is to match up to the achievements of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with a once in a lifetime chance to share something with amazing artists from around the world."

The festival will involve more than 25,000 artists, with 12,000 events at 900 venues, including 130 world premieres and 86 UK premieres.

Many of the festival events were known already, but new details were announced in the pop, fashion and comedy programmes. In the last there will be a retrospective of women in British comedy, from Joyce Grenfell to Victoria Wood; a season looking at the role that the Hackney Empire has played in radical comedy since Charlie Chaplin took to the stage there more than 100 years ago; topical comedy shows at the Criterion Theatre hosted by Stephen Fry; Tim Minchin at the Eden Project in Cornwall; and Neil Mullarkey leading a world record improv attempt in Barnsley.

There will also be a barge full of comedians – called the Tales of the Riverbank Comedy Barge – travelling from London to Edinburgh with impromptu gigs and masterclasses along the way.

In fashion, the festival has paired designers and visual artists to work together for one-off commissions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It will include Giles Deacon with Jeremy Deller, Jonathan Saunders with Jess Flood-Paddock and Stephen Jones with Cerith Wyn Evans. Mackenzie said: "It is one of our most thrilling experiments in getting artists to beyond their personal bests, as they say in the world of games."

The pop highlights will be the Radio 1 Hackney weekend, where 100,000 people are expected for a lineup that includes Jack White, Florence + The Machine, Jessie J and A new free festival in Newport, Busk on the Usk, will include Scritti Politti, meaning that its lead singer, Green Gartside, will perform in his own city for the first time.

There will be lots of pop-up events, said Mackenzie, not least one in the true sense of the word with artist Jeremy Deller touring the nation with a bouncy castle in the shape of and the size of Stonehenge.

Some events have had question marks over them, including the artist Martin Creed's plan to get as many people as possible to ring a bell at 8am on 27 July. There was initial scepticism from church bellringers but Mackenzie said everyone was now signed up, including the Royal Navy, which would ring ships' bells. "This is one of my favourite examples of participation and inclusion," said Mackenzie. If anyone does not have a bell they can download one for their phone. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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