Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Monday, March 12, 2012, 11:15 AM
I’ve written magazine articles and blog posts about the Startchitect phenomenon [sorry for the broken links] over the years – the subject was visited in this week’s New York Times real estate cover story with a title I love: “Boldface Buildings in the Cold Light of Now” versus the less intense web version: “Starchitect Buildings Test the Value of a Name.” The article explores the buildings that faired well and those that didn’t, suggesting that the branding of a building doesn’t assure success.
I’m surprised the term hasn’t found its way into the dictionary yet, although Wikipedia has a comprehensive write up. I saw the Richard Meier designed buildings at 173-176 Perry Street (and later the sister building 165 Charles Street) in Manhattan as the first luxury development that fit my definition of the Starchitect phenomenon. It came online and sold quickly to west coast types who were awash in the aura of Meier’s phenomenal Getty museum achievement.
My take on the Starchitect phenomenon:
“The city is better for the starchitect phenomenon,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, “because it enhanced the mystique of New York’s residential housing market. But during the frenzy, those buildings were marketed as if they had inherent greater value, and the jury is still out on that.”
I saw the evolution of events during the boom as going something like this:
- Prices began to rise rapidly
- New development surged
- Land assemblage costs spiked
- Developers looked for ways to differentiate (think pet spas)
- High costs drove development skew to high end
- Starchitects introduced to “create” value in emerging more affordable locations
- Starchitect branding became the baseline for all new development
- Branding morphed into designers and decorators
- Housing market corrected
- Starchitect buildings generally struggled as much as non-Starchitect developments
Being an appraiser, and thinking about values, I always looked at the Starchitect phenomenon as a way to artificially increase the net present value of the development – make it more front end loaded – i.e. create more buzz during the compressed marketing period pulling future upside to the developer rather than the buyer. Over time it all comes out in the wash and the branding power fades.
I see these projects as commanding higher prices than non-Starchitect developments built around the same period, but am skeptical they have a stronger staying power or more future upside.
Of course the Starchitect phenomenon moved on to commercial and global stages. I’d have to say that it was terrific for the NYC housing stock [Thank You Amanda Burden!] and will always have its place in the new development space. However the new development phenomenon that required nearly every building to have Starchitect branding was a one-off. It was over-emphasized and over-relied on, fed by an era of easy credit.
- Its A Good Time To Be A Famous Architect, Even If You Are Not That Famous [Matrix]
- Reflecting on Starchitects [Matrix]
- Boldface Buildings in the Cold Light of Now [NY Times]