The starchitect sounds like the latest addition to Hollywood’s roll call of superheroes. But although a starchitect can’t fly, these celebrity architects are certainly blessed with superhuman powers when it comes to selling high-end properties.
‘It used to be the developer, then it was the hotel operator, but now it’s the architect who raises the bar on a scheme,’ says Camilla Mabbott, group marketing director at Aylesford International. Gone are the days when a developer put a project out to tender and saw which architectural firm came up with the best-value design.
Today, the kudos that names such as Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas bring to a scheme will immediately underscore its exclusivity and attract PR gold. Even in high-end residential real estate, the dry-sounding word ‘development’ has given way to the buzzword ‘curation’, with house builders acting like museum directors creating collections of prestigious houses by architect-artistes.
You, too, can live in a masterpiece, the literature accompanying such starry schemes invariably says. For, especially in the second- (and third- and fourth-) homes market, developers aren’t just selling houses—they’re selling dreams, status and identity. And the prospect that one might rub shoulders with a classier kind of neighbour. ‘It does have a lot to do with wanting to live among “people like us” and being one of a group of likeminded property collectors,’ says Richard Hywel Evans, himself something of a celebrity architect after garnering plaudits for several resort schemes, notably Zil Payson in the Seychelles.
‘People want to own a prestigious home by a prestigious name as they might want a piece of fine art or fine-wine collection.’ Not that Hywel Evans reckons starchitect- designed houses are all about social importance. He points to research by Savills International, which found that the market value of five- and six-star branded residences, such as Four Seasons, the Aman Group, and Per Aquam, was 25% higher than standard for the area. If a property had a starchitect connection, it was 35% higher.
Such top premiums must be a fillip for the O Property Collection, ‘curators’ of Dellis Cay, a private island in the Turks and Caicos Caribbean archipelago. With homes by David Chipperfield, Piero Lissoni, Kengo Kuma and Zaha Hadid (master-planning the scheme), the project is aimed at ultra-highnet- worth individuals. Prices range from $3.5 million to $10 million for villas and $2 million to $4 million for apartments.
Purchasers include Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, who’ve bought a six-bedroom villa by Piero Lissoni. Dr Cem Kinay, chairman and CEO of The O Property Collection, who handpicked the architects involved, says: ‘[The property] complements and enhances the natural environment while providing the ultimate living experience, with personalised services from an award-winning hotel group’, that being the Mandarin Oriental.
‘Clients are living in contemporary British homes, but when it comes to buying overseas, they have to look at these twee Laura Ashley-style homes that their grandparents would’ve lived in,’ says James Davies, head of international development at Hamptons International. ‘Most want something by a well-known architect because it’s out of the ordinary—more Shoreditch than Pall Mall.’ Mr Davies has a point.
The late Harry Brown, who developed Sagaponac on Long Island, did so as a riposte to all of the ‘McMansions’ swamping the Hamptons.
One of the finest architecture-led developments under construction is Bom Sucesso, a golf resort near Lisbon. Rather than gathering star names regardless of compatibility, the developer has chosen mostly Portuguese architects, but with a few outsiders like David Chipperfield, to produce a harmonious site of all-white houses.
‘Bom Sucesso was the first in Europe, and people bought there, not because it was Portugal or for the golf, but because it was such a unique place,’ says Mr Davies. For Camilla Mabbott, it’s not the prestigious Banyan Tree hotel group that has captured buyers’ imagination at Corniche Bay on Mauritius, nor the island’s allure.
It’s the name Norman Foster, who has designed the resort. With prices starting at €2.975 million, rising to €5.975 million, they’re twice as high as any other development on the island. ‘A second home is a want rather than a need, and, in this economic climate, it’s the people who can afford these price points that are prevailing.’
Richard Hywel Evans says: ‘When a site is special, it stands to reason that a developer finds the best architect, making it an opportunity to acquire something extraordinary.’
Banyan Tree, Corniche Bay (www.cornichebay.com) through Aylesford International (020–7351 2383)
Dellis Cay (www.delliscay.com) through Savills International (020–7016 3740)
Bom Sucesso www.bomsucesso.net