Cosmetic Surgeons Are Building L.A. Megamansions
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Cosmetic Surgeons Are Building L.A. Megamansions

And the results are over the top.

By Katherine Clarke
Mon, May 10, 2021 11:27amGrey Clock 6 min

It could only happen in Los Angeles: Celebrity plastic surgeons are getting into the megamansion-building business.

The latest entrant to the market is Alex Khadavi, a 48-year-old dermatologist known for everything from Botox to buttock-enhancement procedures as well as for a clientele that has included singer Lance Bass and actor David Hasselhoff. Dr. Khadavi is listing his recently completed Bel-Air megamansion for $87.777 million, making it one of the highest-priced properties to have gone on the market in recent months.

Dr. Khadavi joins the likes of Raj Kanodia, doctor to the Kardashian clan and so-called “King of L.A. Rhinoplasties,” and Paul Nassif, a facial-plastic surgeon known for his role in the reality-television series “Botched,” in diverting their attention to the high-end development game. Dr. Kanodia first listed his Bel-Air megamansion for $180 million in 2018, while Dr. Nassif is listing a nearly completed mansion in the same area for US$32 million.

Dr. Alex Khadavi’s Bel-Air home is packed full of amenities, including a Champagne-tasting room. MARC ANGELES

Dr. Khadavi—whose jet-black eyebrows, chiselled features and perfectly coiffed hair allows him to seamlessly blend in with his clients on his Instagram account—says he got carried away with the project. He says he paid US$16 million for the existing property in 2013 and had planned to spend roughly $10 million more on a new glassy contemporary home. Instead, he devoted seven years and roughly $US30 million to the more-than-1950-square-metre compound.

“It’s like when you go to a car dealership to buy a Toyota and they show you a Ferrari or a Lamborghini,” he says of choosing the materials and finishes. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I want that one!’ You can’t pass it up.”

The result is over-the-top, even for Los Angeles. Known as “Palazzo di Vista,” the modern seven-bedroom contemporary sits behind enormous mirrored-steel gates on an elevated parcel of land with 360-degree views spanning from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Channel Islands.

In the middle of the grand foyer, a push of a button reveals a surprise: The floor opens up to reveal a DJ platform on a hydraulic lift. Push another button, and smoke machines send fog throughout “the cube”—the surrounding glassed-in living room area that also has a glass-bottomed bridge overlooking the space.

In the pool outside, several powerful jets are set to automatically begin pumping the water in time with music, so guests in the water can feel the bass. The pool also is the setting for a digital show that Dr. Khadavi likens to Disneyland’s elaborate “World of Color” attraction. A rotatable 3-D laser projector on the roof casts light in a rhombic-shape up to 153sqm  over the pool.

The purpose of the light show isn’t to project princesses; it is designed to display the latest art-world craze: NFT artwork. An NFT, which stands for “nonfungible tokens,” is a digital asset that serves as a kind of deed to prove ownership of various digital artifacts, like works of art.

In addition to the NFT pool display, the home also includes a “multisensory” NFT art gallery comprising seven indoor large-screen media displays dotted throughout the house. Valued at $7 million, the art collection is also available for sale and includes pieces by Ghost Girl—a 3-D artist who offers visual experiences for “VJing,” a kind of real-time visual performance—and Bighead, a record producer and DJ who worked on the production of the 2017 hit “Gucci Gang” by hip-hop artist Lil Pump.

The home also includes a glass elevator that is positioned to look as though it is plunging into a koi pond as it heads to the basement. There is also a formal dining room, a Champagne-tasting room, a movie theatre, a massage room, a car museum and a detached guesthouse with an outdoor tequila bar, according to listing agents Aaron Kirman of Compass and Mauricio Umansky of the Agency. Dr. Khadavi planted 56 Moroccan date palm trees around the perimeter of the property for privacy.

Dr. Khadavi, who oversees two dermatology practices in Los Angeles, says his pursuit of perfection became all-consuming. Within the first year, he had fired his architect. Soon after, he replaced his contractor and got rid of his interior designer. “I’ve pretty much been doing it myself,” he says. “I tell people I got a degree in interior design from Pinterest.”

A glass elevator at the property is built to look as if it is plunging into a koi pond below as it enters the basement level. JOE BRYANT

There were other sources of inspiration. The doctor says the proportions of the house were inspired by the “golden ratio” of Italian mathematician Fibonacci. The sevens in the asking price are a nod to Dr. Khadavi’s favourite number; he and his family moved to the U.S. from Iran when he was 7 to escape the revolution.

No expense was spared. “Instead of going for the $10-a-square-foot marble, I went for the $150 to $200 a square foot marble,” Dr. Khadavi says. “This property deserves the best.”

When it came to refining the aesthetics of the house, the dermatologist says he drew on his work. “When I do injectables in people’s faces… I always look and see what I could do above and beyond to make this person better, “ he says. “Every person is beautiful, you have to make them more beautiful.”

At the touch of a button, a hole opens up in the ground of entry foyer to reveal a DJ platform. MARC ANGELES

Plastic surgeons like Dr. Khadavi are among a larger group of high-net-worth individuals who piled into Los Angeles’s luxury housing development space over the past few years. With the market heating up in the early 2010s, many wealthy people with well-positioned parcels of land began building properties geared toward foreign buyers and billionaires, says Stephen Shapiro of Westside Estate Agency, who is not involved in the home. Suddenly, everyone was a developer, including those with limited or no real-estate experience. That boom resulted in an oversupply of spec homes.

A car museum was built to showcase designer vehicles. JUWAN LI

For some of these surgeons, building a distinctive architectural home is a way to express themselves in a new way. “One of the reasons I built [my house] was to express my artistic vision through another medium, in addition to the scarless rhinoplasty and facial enhancement,” Dr. Kanodia says.

For his part, Dr. Nassif says he found that the patience and attention to detail he honed in his surgery work proved useful in real estate. “You have to look at everything with very scrutinous glasses in surgery,” he says. “I’m doing the same thing with the house.”

In real estate, like in surgery, it’s wise to expect the unexpected, Dr. Nassif says. “You’re dealing with problems all the time,” he says. “An issue comes up with a contractor or you can’t get marble into the Port of California because of Covid delays. It’s never as easy as you think it would be.”

The rush of new contemporary spec homes built in the Los Angeles area has put downward pressure on prices. While Dr. Nassif says he’s had significant interest in his home since listing it earlier this year, Dr. Kanodia recently slashed the asking price of his home to US$99 million from US$180 million. Developers like Nile Niami, known widely as the king of Los Angeles spec homes, handed the keys over to his lenders on at least one project and is facing default on others, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

The spiralling costs of Dr. Khadavi’s project also had consequences. While he initially thought he might live in the property, Dr. Khadavi says he is now selling it largely because he can’t afford to keep it. It’s also too large for him, his girlfriend and his Goldendoodle Cheetos. “I don’t have a large family, and I don’t have the financial capability to enjoy the house,” he says. “I borrowed a lot of money to get it to this level, and I can’t afford living in it.”

Anyone living in the mansion would “need to probably have a couple of butlers and a couple of maids,” he says.

Mr. Umansky says the house is an entertainer’s paradise, and he is confident he will find a buyer looking for that party lifestyle.

“In order to be great you have to dare to be bad. You have to take risks,” Mr. Umansky says, noting that cookie-cutter houses don’t stand out in a crowded market. “There are these tech and cryptocurrency guys who are still young and who want to have fun.”

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 8, 2021.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”