Earlier this year, the Guardian released a report that half of all new-build luxury apartments built in London in 2017 failed to sell. This figure added to a total of 15,000 existing high-end apartments still on the market. What’s more, the study announced 420 more apartment buildings—totaling 26,000 units—have received planning permission from the government.
Earlier this afternoon, sociologist Saskia Sassen expanded the radar into a global perspective, exposing a ‘mutation of urban land’ in which material buildings are transformed into invisible capital, where the city becomes a ‘meta-reality’ of immaterial assets.
Flipping to a Blade Runner-like rendering of the Time Warner Center in New York, Sassen tells us 122 of the 192 apartments are owned by people who use shell companies that hide their identities—while thousands of apartments in cities like New York and London remain uninhabited.
In our present situation, domestic space in the city has melted into an algorithmic cloud of investment capital. There is more concern over the marketability of the speculative city than the functionality of what buildings are physically present.
Perceived exclusively as an asset by investors buying and selling both real and immaterial properties with no intention of inhabiting them, urban development is increasingly catering toward overseas investment. Derelict housing units are razed, plans for another luxury high-rise are approved, the renderings are conjured, shrouded in layers of commodified desire. Pools, gyms, 24-hour botanists, copper-lined everything, saunas—everything one could ever desire, meticulously crafted for the resident who will never arrive.
With much of the visualisation of these speculative apartments outsourced to the same overseas rendering companies, the fantastical visions that assault us on the street level, on the subway, and in digital sponsored content, reflects back a glitched future. The same mistakes are made: despite their design differences, these immaterial apartments are consistently rendered in impossible angles and mysterious internal lighting that inexplicably emenates within, no shortage of perfect cloudless ombre sunsets, manicured urban landscapes devoid of people. It never acknowledges a human scale, as if reinforcing the idea that future of domestic space in the city will exist as a commodity only, never to be inhabited.
“When that city as a meta-reality can be transformed into an extraordinarily powerful instrument, we as the people lose out,” says Sassen. According to these visions for the future city, human residents have seemingly been factored out of urban life entirely.