From Kanye to Kardashian: The Curious Case of “Le Courvoisier” and Celebrity Obsessions With Architecture

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

When considering which architect might have the biggest presence in the consciousness of today’s celebrities, you would be forgiven for picking the most famous names in contemporary design — the likes of Gehry, Hadid and Libeskind must surely be most familiar to those in the upper echelons of stardom, right?

On the contrary, it is necessary to look further back in time than those modern icons. If recent social media evidence is anything to go by, Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier is the man with a cult following amongst the rich and famous. However, this recently released Facebook video suggests cultural appreciation for the Modernist master and architecture as a whole is questionable at best …

In a short clip on the popular social media page “Keeping Up With the Kardashians on E!” — currently followed by 9.6 million people — Kris Jenner (formerly Kardashian) is seen telling her daughter Khloé that she is reading a book on “Le Courvoisier.”

The reading material in question is not, as it turns out, a volume on a famous brand of French cognac, but is actually about the famous French-Swiss architect, better known as Le Corbusier. This comical error will have architectural enthusiasts and cultural commentators around the globe cringing like never before, with Jenner’s (seemingly willful) lack of awareness creating viral entertainment for all the wrong reasons. Still, maybe Jenner is at least learning something from one of the foremost pioneers of Modernism in the 20th century?

Her brief review of the book is truly mixed. “It’s so weird and boring … but I’m obsessed,” declares Jenner, inadvertently tapping into the polarizing opinions held by contemporary architects about Le Corbusier’s urban impact. Many of today’s designers hold a similarly curious fascination with the architect, often torn on how his innovative but extreme philosophies on urban planning inspired countless flawed housing developments throughout the following decades. Whether Jenner is aware of any of this is highly debatable, but we should at least let her finish the book first.

Kanye … the Corbusier of rap?

This curious turn of events brings to mind another occasion in recent history when architecture has been thrust into the limelight by an unexpected source. As Architizer’s Zachary Edelson reported back in September 2013: “Kanye West is making news again, this time for ‘wanting to be an architect.’ I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t just another bout of megalomania or a Brad Pitt–the–architect scenario— underneath it all, he’s really just talking about multidisciplinary design practice.”

Kanye speaks alongside architects and designers at Art Basel 2013. Shana Beth Mason of ART REPUBLIK commented: “When a man who calls himself ‘Yeezus’ attempts to fill the role of architecture critic alongside Jacques Herzog (one half of the Pritzker Prize–winning firm Herzog & de Meuron) and über-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, its fair to admit that flamboyance has spilled over into pure celebrity posturing.”

Kanye spoke with architecture students at Harvard GSD … and then invited them all to his concert. Images via Dezeen

Edelson continued: “I’m not denying that West has said some eyebrow-raising things about architecture, including how his new album ‘Yeezus’ was inspired by Le Corbusier. While we poked some fun at that comparison, it’s true that Kanye and Corb share a desire for social change, and now it looks like they share something else: a determination to break down barriers in the arts.”

It is probably fair to say that Kris Jenner’s motivation for reading up on Corb is not quite as profound as Kanye West’s, but it is interesting that the same architect has once again entered the public psyche via an unlikely origin. Perhaps the divisive nature of Le Corbusier’s legacy chimes with that of today’s celebrity culture, where the world’s most famous are often vilified as much as they are adored by faithful fans.

Perhaps the most revealing passage of the video, however, comes towards the end, when Khloé remonstrates with her mother over the validity of her reading material. “It’s not a real book,” she retorts, “Oh … this building was erected in 19-whatever? … That’s a coffee table book.”

While Khloé Kardashian cannot be considered the definitive mouthpiece of her generation, her dismissive attitude towards architectural history is perhaps symptomatic of architecture’s constant battle to retain relevancy in today’s wider society — the public sphere that exists outside the walls of architecture studios and schools.

The video is undeniably farcical, but has gotten people talking — the post has attracted 2,800 comments and counting. In spite of this, the chances of the comical clip increasing awareness of modern architecture and its impact on the world seems unlikely — if Brad Pitt and Kanye West failed to tip the balance, Kim Kardashian’s mom is not going to fair any better. If nothing else, Le Corbusier has at least acquired a new nickname: “Le Courvoisier” will go down in history. Hopefully the architect is not rolling in his grave too much …

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