08 Dez 2023

From Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon:

Going Infinite

After Sam surprised Ryan by calling for the whole company to follow him to the Bahamas, Ryan scrambled for a place to put it. Not finding anything suitable as a permanent home, he hired Alfia to design FTX’s new corporate headquarters. Alfia had never done anything like it.

She brought in a friend from architecture school named Ian Rosenfield to help.

Sam had handed Ryan his checkbook and told him to buy office space and as much worker housing as fast as possible without worrying about the cost. No man was ever so good at not worrying about the cost as Ryan. In a matter of weeks, he had snapped up between \(250 and \)300 million in real estate […]

He handed the land and a budget of several hundred million dollars to the young architects and basically said, “Have at it.”

Before they could design a space to accommodate FTX, they needed to understand its structure and its rituals and its habits. To be FTX’s architects, they’d also need to be FTX’s anthropologists […] Sam himself, they soon realized, would be of no practical use. “Sam has no time,” said Ian. “Sam delegates all this stuff to other people. From the start we tried to engage him, but he didn’t engage. He said, ‘You’re the architects, I don’t have any idea.’”

The mini city creators obviously had some questions needing answers. For example: “How many people will occupy this city?” Or: “What does Sam want his mini city to look like?” But Sam wasn’t interested […] The architects found themselves handed off to […] Claire Watanabe—who had assumed Ryan’s role as spender of money and manager of support staff in the Bahamas. “We said just give us a list of the employees, give us anything,” said Ian. “Claire said, ‘I know it’s weird, but we don’t have any of that—even the number of employees.’”

In their quest to understand this strange new company, the architects nagged enough people that finally someone sent them a note with what they’d asked for in the first place: a list of what Sam Bankman-Fried wanted in his corporate mini city. “There were only three things on it,” said Ian. Sam wanted the building shaped like an F, for the benefit of the people in the planes descending into Lynden Pindling International Airport. He wanted the side of the building to evoke his unruly hair. Unlikely as that sounded, Ian thought that it was just possible—they could use CNC cut aluminum to abstractly mimic what he was now calling “Sam’s Jewfro.” “It wasn’t actually a bad idea,” said Ian.

The third and final item on the list of Sam’s desires was the tungsten cube. The tungsten cube was a bit of a head-scratcher. The imaginations of crypto people everywhere, it turned out, had been gripped by tungsten cubes. Tungsten, the architects now learned, was the planet’s trendiest dense metal. Crypto people were then memeing about “the intensity of the density.” A company in the Midwest had supposedly created the world’s biggest tungsten cube. A mere fourteen inches, it had cost a quarter of a million dollars and weighed two thousand pounds. Sam had apparently ordered up such a cube, flown it into the Bahamas, and wanted it displayed on a plinth in his mini city. The architects never were shown Sam’s dense and precious cube, but they nevertheless incorporated it into their drawings. “We designed a space for it,” said Ian.

Instead of guidance, what the architects were given was a deadline. They were to prepare the five acres of jungle, together with a slideshow of photos of the imagined buildings, for a big public announcement. Incredibly, they were ready for it when it happened, on April 25, 2022. They’d cleared the jungle without a permit and sketched out their designs without help. Beside the freshly shaven five-acre bald patch of jungle, they’d erected a billboard, with a picture of the mini city and a slogan, FTX: GROWTH IN PROGRESS. The Bahamas media assembled. The new prime minister arrived, with an entourage. A big group of FTXers appeared, carrying shovels, likely for the first time in their lives, with which to break ceremonial ground. And from a car that also carried FTX’s COO, Constance Wang, Sam emerged, looking as if he had fallen out of a dumpster: cargo shorts, wrinkled T-shirt, droopy white socks. Same guy, thought Ian.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, Sam was meant to give a speech. Ian thought he might need some help, and so before the proceedings, he pulled him aside.

What have you seen of the design? asked Ian.

I’ve seen nothing, said Sam.

Have you at least seen the plans?


What are you going to say?

I’ll just wing it, said Sam.

At some point the architects realized that Sam had no clue what they’d designed, or that they’d designed anything at all. That they’d made all the decisions about FTX’s new headquarters, projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, without the slightest input from the person who was paying for it. Soon they’d learn that even the list of Sam’s desires they’d been given had not come from Sam—and that Sam himself wasn’t aware that he had stated any desires. The list had been created by someone else inside FTX who’d tried to imagine what perhaps he himself might want in his new office buildings, were he Sam. Sam didn’t want his Jewfro on the side of the building. This other person had just imagined that “Jewfro on the side of the building” was the kind of thing Sam might find amusing. The tungsten cube had been a cool idea, but, really, what were the odds that Sam or anyone else bought and shipped into the Bahamas a one-ton cube? If the cube existed, why hadn’t the architects ever seen it? “I don’t even know if it was ever actually bought,” said Ian, of this thing he had designed a building around.

At the end of the ceremony, Sam lingered a bit. Ian seized the moment to finally ask him directly the question he’d been trying for months to ask.

What’s one thing you want out of these buildings, other than work?

For the first time, Sam thought about it.

Badminton courts, he said.

That was it. That was all he wanted. Badminton courts.

How many courts? asked Ian.

Three, said Sam.

Then he left.