Dasha Zhukova’s New Real Estate Venture
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Dasha Zhukova’s New Real Estate Venture

Ray, makes It ‘night at the museum’ every night.

By Elisa Lipsky-Karasz
Tue, May 25, 2021 5:50amGrey Clock 4 min

The future of museum-going and cultural forays could be down in your own lobby, according to Dasha Zhukova, the arts patron and philanthropist who is launching a new residential real estate development firm in New York.

Ray, the name of Zhukova’s new brand, sets out to remedy a blind spot she sees in the residential world: the lack of arts and culture experiences in urban developments. Where other buildings and “co-living” spaces offer perks like golf simulators and dog grooming services, Ray’s buildings will offer cultural programming like master classes, events and workshops drawn from local institutions and artists to encourage creative synergy, says Zhukova, 39, with rents pegged at or below market rate.

One of the venture’s projects is reimagining Harlem’s three-story National Black Theatre, founded in 1968 by the late Barbara Ann Teer on the corner of 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, and is set to break ground by the end of May. A 21-storey building will take its place, with the new theatre space, retail and an event space spread across the first four floors, which Ray is developing with L+M Development Partners. The final structure will include 222 apartments, as well as artist studios, co-working spaces, communal kitchens, a library and a wellness space, and is slated to be completed in 2024.

Teer’s daughter, Sade Lythcott, now leads the theatre. “This project and partnership has felt [like] kismet from the time Dasha and I first met in 2019, not around aesthetics or Ray’s business model, but around our mothers. What it has meant to be women, raised by fearless matriarchs,” Lythcott wrote by email. “There is an incredible amount of equity created when you first start from a place that recognizes our shared humanity, honours what came before, in service of creating the built spaces of the future.”

Zhukova was inspired to launch Ray after seeing how visitors were drawn to the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the Moscow museum she co-founded in 2008. Its current home was designed by acclaimed architect Rem Koolhaas. “Even if [visitors] had seen all the shows that we had on, they would just stay and hang out in our lobby,” she says. “They would hang out in our cafe for hours on end—just come back day after day because they wanted to be in that environment.”

While hotels such as New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel have showcased art collections including names like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and developers have often staged high-end homes with trendy art to help sweeten the blue-chip price tags, one of Ray’s rental buildings will boast a permanent installation by Rashid Johnson, whose work just fetched a record US$1.95 million at Christie’s on May 11. Johnson will be creating a plant-filled installation for the lobby of a 110-unit building in Philadelphia’s rising Fishtown neighbourhood, which also will have six street-level artist studios, as well as maker spaces, and will be completed in 2022.

“Access to art shouldn’t be for a privileged few,” Johnson wrote by email. “These art and living spaces are aiming to bridge some of this gap, for me that’s exciting.”

The first two Ray ventures in Philadelphia and Harlem are largely financed by Zhukova. Ray recently inked a third deal, in Miami, where the site will expand beyond the 250-plus unit rental building that will anchor it, says Zhukova, with future plans for retail, offices, landscaped walkways and single- and multi-family homes.) With each project, Ray will emphasize new buildings rather than retrofitting existing space: “To truly rethink the space and how we occupy it…you really need to rebuild,” says Zhukova, who is looking to make inventive use of materials and space in part to make up for areas where Ray is spending more freely. “The focus [is] on how our habits have changed, the technological innovation and the cultural change.”

Her team at Ray currently eschews traditional titles—Zhukova calls her colleagues “thought partners”—and includes Will Kluczkowski, a real estate veteran from DDG; Becca Goldstein, a Stanford MBA whose CV includes a stint at a Brooklyn-based whisky distillery; and the design gallerist Suzanne Demisch.

“We are looking for creative solutions,” says Demisch, who says she enjoys the challenge posed by a limited budget. “We are asking why. There’s not a package for all the touchpoints of the experience—it’s about the aesthetic and the culture of each location.” Months were spent developing and perfecting the hand-split bricks for the facade of the Philadelphia project with manufacturers Glen-Gery and architecture firm Leong Leong—and finding the perfect Pantone swatch for the pinkish hue of the Harlem building facade, which is a nod to the historic Nigerian site the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.

Such historic references were a priority of the architect of Ray’s Harlem project, Frida Escobedo, who is based in Mexico City. Art panels, inscriptions and a geometric, rhythmic facade that echo the motifs of the original National Black Theatre all refer to its previous incarnation, but “we’re also putting a great deal of focus on communal spaces, such as the artist studio and constellation of gathering areas,” says Escobedo, who is collaborating on the interiors with designer Little Wing Lee of Studio & Projects.

Zhukova, meanwhile, is partnering with Artspace, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit developer of art spaces, which will receive funding from the Ford Foundation in order to provide housing and studios at the Harlem building. She hopes to do the same in all Ray buildings. Her goal is to create accessible rents that will allow artists to remain in their home neighbourhoods rather than fleeing cities for more affordable live/work options. Zhukova next has her eye on rising cities including Austin, Nashville, Denver and Portland, Oregon, where she says they will focus on neighbourhoods that are a cultural fit for the brand.

“My personal dream is to build in Arizona,” says Zhukova. “I think in that climate and given the less restrictive building codes, you could build something absolutely incredible.”

Reprinted by permission of WSJ. Magazine. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 14, 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.”