Starchitect Condos – 2005

As the real estate market boomed, developers discovered the value of name-brand architecture.

It’s the latest trend in urbanism: luxury condominiums designed by the likes of Daniel Libeskind, Richard Gluckman, Jean Nouvel, Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, and Philippe Starck. Popping up like whack-a-moles on the scenic vistas of cities such as New York, Miami Beach, Seattle, Sacramento, Denver, and Philadelphia, they promise “state-of-the-art,” “exclusive” accommodations and “cutting-edge contemporary style” with “a pedigree of prestige that is unequalled.”

With architecture elevated to cultural prominence by the Guggenheim Bilbao and the passionate debates surrounding the World Trade Center, savvy real estate developers of the new millennium discovered big-name architects. “Are you surprised?” Ada Louise Huxtable asked recently. “Now that there is celebrity in architecture, they find they can sell more, faster, if they have a name attached to it.” Not long ago elite architects limited their residential work to patron-driven one-offs. Then Meier condescended to build the Perry Street condos on the Hudson River to the initial yawns of the architectural elite. The real estate market kept booming, and the unspoken rules of the game changed.

Although the market shows signs of cooling, the starchitect condo is the perfect amalgam of architectural excess and the financial bottom line, allowing underused sites to be turned into contemporary landmarks instead of spiritless boxes. “It’s already had a tremendous effect on the quality of architecture in New York,” Meier says.

Though developments of this kind generally raise the feathers of community activists, their contribution of much-needed dollars to city tax bases is exactly what some urban areas have been dreaming of for decades. Add to that incentives for affordable housing and increased public space, and you’ve got a formula for the twenty-first-century “Garden City.” Now if we could only get more famous architects to start building green.

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