Plutocratic Insurgency Note No. 5: The Techno-Palaces of the Global Elite
Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Ligouri Bunker
Key Information: David McManus, “One57 Tower New York City, Manhattan Skyscraper, The Billionaire Building Apartments.” e-Architect. 5 July 2016 (Updated: 6 June 2017), https://www.e-architect.co.uk/new-york/one57-tower-new-york-city:
… Upon completion in 2014, it stood at 1,005 feet (306 m) tall, making it the tallest residential building in the city for a few months until 432 Park Avenue was constructed.
“The 73-floor supertall skyscraper in midtown Manhattan has been crowned the new most expensive building in New York City as of 2015, according to a report by CityRealty”, reports Business Insider. “The building’s average price per square foot for the year was $6,010, while last year’s most expensive, 15 Central Park West, came in at only $5,726.
One57’s average price increased 18.5% from last year, while 15 CPW’s average decreased 10%. One of the penthouses in the 1,004-foot-tall residence closed this year for $100.5 million, making it the most expensive apartment ever sold in NYC, as well as the first to surpass $100 million.”…
Authors’ Note—Numerous images are contained in this source.
Key Information: Alyssa Newcomb, “Inside the Tallest Residential Building in the Western Hemisphere.” ABC News. 14 October 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/US/inside-tallest-residential-building-western-hemisphere/story?id=26186476:
Bragging rights for the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere now belong to a luxury skyscraper in New York City that's even taller than the Empire State Building.
Construction has topped out on the luxury tower at 432 Park Ave. in Midtown Manhattan. The building stands 1,396 feet, making it even taller than 1 World Trade Center without the spire.
The 96-story building will welcome its first residents next year, giving them a breathtaking view stretching from Central Park to the Atlantic Ocean and from Lower Manhattan, where the Freedom Tower is located, to Connecticut…
…Among the extras residents can purchase are climate-controlled wine cellars and staff apartments. It comes as no surprise that such a prestigious address isn't cheap. A place in the 104-unit building starts at $16.95 million.
Authors’ Note—Numerous images are contained in this source.
Key Information: Mark Cooper, “Svelte Density: Needle Towers Puncture the Sky.” Urban Land. 14 March 2016, https://urbanland.uli.org/planning-design/svelte-density-needle-towers-puncture-sky/:
Following the 2014 completion of the dramatic One57 tower by Extell Development, a raft of new tall and slender buildings is set to change the midtown Manhattan skyline in New York City. Many are above the 984-foot (300 m) measure used by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat to qualify as a supertall building, and most are designed to take advantage of Central Park views.
The 1,000-foot-tall (305 m) One57, on West 57th Street, was the first of this new wave and was briefly New York’s tallest residential building, but it has been surpassed by the 1,428-foot-tall (435 m) 432 Park Avenue building. Estimated to be completed by 2018, both will be surpassed by the 1,522-foot (464 m) Nordstrom Tower as well as by the not-quite-as-supertall—but superslim—111 West 57th Street building, which will rise to 1,438 feet (438 m) tall with a tiny floor plate of 60 by 80 feet (18 by 24 m).
Ming Wu, design principal at architect Perkins Eastman, says, “In New York real estate terms, the appearance of needle towers on the skyline is a very recent phenomenon. At present, in Manhattan, there are easily a dozen or so needle towers being planned or under construction—and ranging in height from 900 to 1,500 feet [274 to 457 m], so this phenomenon is significant and will dramatically alter the city’s image. Many will surpass the Empire State Building in height, and will rival the [1,776-foot/541-m] Freedom Tower in prominence…
…The final key to unlock these projects is the price that people will pay to acquire a view over Central Park. One57 has 90 stories and only 94 apartments, plus a Park Hyatt hotel. In January 2015, the top-floor duplex at One57 sold for $100.47 million—the first New York City apartment property to break the $100 million level. The even more willowy 111 West 57th Street has only 45 apartments in its tower section, some of which will be duplexes and are expected to fetch more than $100 million when sold.
The pricing of these apartments—units in 111 West 57th Street are expected to start at $14 million—means they are aimed squarely at the world’s richest people, the 40,000 people worldwide who are worth more than $100 million each as tallied by WealthInsight, a research company specializing in ultra-high-net-worth and high-net-worth individuals.
Such developments have been particularly popular with buyers from Asia, the home of many high-rise luxury developments. But the developments have appealed to ultra-high-net-worth buyers from all over the world….
In Sydney, a city that a decade ago had no high-rise luxury apartment buildings, Chinese state-owned developer Greenland Group is building a 771-foot-tall (235 m) residential tower in the central business district. When completed in 2019, it will be the city’s tallest residential building. It is being developed to a higher specification than earlier developments because Greenland wanted to be the market leader in Australia and the building is being marketed primarily to an Asian clientele.
In London, Dalian Wanda is developing the 42-story River Tower near the new U.S. embassy site in Vauxhall. As well as being tall for London, the tower will offer hotel concierge services to its residents—an acknowledgment that many of them will be international buyers with multiple homes, looking for a significant level of service…
Key Information: “Inside The World’s First Billion-Dollar Home.” Forbes. 30 April 2008, https://www.forbes.com/2008/04/30/home-india-billion-forbeslife-cx_mw_0430realestate.html:
While visiting New York in 2005, Nita Ambani was in the spa at the Mandarin Oriental New York, overlooking Central Park. The contemporary Asian interiors struck her just so, and prompted her to inquire about the designer.
Nita Ambani was no ordinary tourist. She is married to Mukesh Ambani, head of Mumbai, India-based petrochemical giant Reliance Industries, and the fifth richest man in the world. (Lakshmi Mittal, ranked fourth, is an Indian citizen, but a resident of the U.K.)
Forbes estimated Ambani’s net worth at $43 billion in March. Reliance Industries was founded by Mukesh’s father, Dhirubhai Ambani, in 1966, and is India’s most valuable firm by market capitalization. The couple, who have three children, currently live in a 22-story Mumbai tower that the family has spent years remodeling to meet its needs.
Like many families with the means to do so, the Ambanis wanted to build a custom home. They consulted with architecture firms Perkins + Will and Hirsch Bedner Associates, the designers behind the Mandarin Oriental, based in Dallas and Los Angeles, respectively. Plans were then drawn up for what will be the world’s largest and most expensive home: a 27-story skyscraper in downtown Mumbai with a cost nearing $2 billion, says Thomas Johnson, director of marketing at Hirsch Bedner Associates. The architects and designers are creating as they go, altering floor plans, design elements and concepts as the building is constructed.
The only remotely comparable high-rise property currently on the market is the $70 million triplex penthouse at the Pierre Hotel in New York, designed to resemble a French chateau, and climbing 525 feet in the air. When the Ambani residence is finished in January, completing a four-year process, it will be 550 feet high with 400,000 square feet of interior space.
The home will cost more than a hotel or high-rise of similar size because of its custom measurements and fittings: A hotel or condominium has a common layout, replicated on every floor, and uses the same materials throughout the building (such as door handles, floors, lamps and window treatments).
The Ambani home, called Antilla, differs in that no two floors are alike in either plans or materials used. At the request of Nita Ambani, say the designers, if a metal, wood or crystal is part of the ninth-floor design, it shouldn’t be used on the eleventh floor, for example. The idea is to blend styles and architectural elements so spaces give the feel of consistency, but without repetition.
Antilla’s shape is based on Vaastu, an Indian tradition much like Feng Shui that is said to move energy beneficially through the building by strategically placing materials, rooms and objects.
Atop six stories of parking lots, Antilla’s living quarters begin at a lobby with nine elevators, as well as several storage rooms and lounges. Down dual stairways with silver-covered railings is a large ballroom with 80% of its ceiling covered in crystal chandeliers. It features a retractable showcase for pieces of art, a mount of LCD monitors and embedded speakers, as well as stages for entertainment. The hall opens to an indoor/outdoor bar, green rooms, powder rooms and allows access to a nearby “entourage room” for security guards and assistants to relax…
Who: The global elite of the world. Only about 40,000extra-sovereign individuals are able to afford the ten-million dollar plus price of the units in the more prestigious of these residential towers.[i]
What: The building of techno-palaces (e.g. ‘needle-towers’ and other post-modernist architectural forms) that provide full amenities and are guarded 24-hours by private security personnel.
When: These new urban residences of a transnational plutonomy began to be completed in 2014 and are now spreading to key nodal global city hubs.
Where: This phenomenon initially took place in New York City due to its concentration of global financial capital and limited building space, however, concentrations of global elites in other key cities of the world are also now moving into similar residences though they presently tend to be less expensive.
Why: These residences are likely being purchased due to a combination of factors including their locations in major global financial centers, luxury appointments, high-technology feel, secure nature, and the networking environments they provide to the world’s richest families for business facilitation and marriage alliances between their offspring.
Analysis: One of the authors became aware of the existence of what are, essentially, the new ‘techno-palaces’ of the global elite when travelling to New York City earlier this year. At the time, the One57 (“The Billionaire Building”—Image 2), 432 Park Ave (“Tallest Residential Tower in the Western Hemisphere”—Image 3), and 56 Leonard (“Jenga Skyscraper”—Image 4) high rise residences—while quite amazing—made little sense. These post-modern architectural structures seemed like they had been erected in the city as part of a bad B movie ‘alien colonization’ story line which it turns out—tragically for the American middle and lower classes—is not too far off the mark. It turns out that they are being marketed to the global elite—comprised of about 40,000 extra-sovereign citizens (representing about .000005% of the world’s 7.5 billion population)—who are buying them up in what has quickly developed into a seller’s market. The New York City abodes have an average price in the +$10 million range and represent a component of what we term ‘Dark Globalization.’ Living in high tech skyscraper enclaves guarded by 24-hour private security forces has become another visible road sign on the way to that dystopian future in which a few ‘haves’ possess massive wealth well beyond the rest of the world’s population combined—with an unbridgeable gap in between.
The first of these structures began appearing in New York City with the completion of the One57 building in May 2014 along with the growing number of such completed structures now beginning to drastically alter the city skyline (See Images 2-7, 9). Their erection is due to a combination of factors including the desirability of living in a global hub that generates great financial wealth, a shortage of buildable land within key sections of the city, and an excess of disposable wealth accumulated by the world’s elite. Recent advances in construction techniques have further allowed for the building of very thin ‘needle’ structures that are extremely tall in size—rivaling that of the world’s tallest buildings, even such as One World Trade Center—yet are very narrow at their base.
A precursor to these techno-palaces may be the $1 billion dollar ‘Antilla’ residence of Mukesh Ambani—an industrial, technology, and property magnate—built in Mumbai and completed in November 2010 (See image 1). While only 568 feet tall, it is technically a single unit residence, as opposed to the more typical 1,000 feet tall skyscrapers containing dozens of global elite palatial suites. For less affluent billionaires than Ambani, bargain penthouses (singles up to quads) are going at more affordable prices ranging in the $50 through $250 million range with about $90-100 million now appearing to be a popular price for the most elite among them.
The expectation is that—now that these ‘techno palaces’ are becoming the de facto global elite residences in New York City—they will begin to emerge across the globe in its major financial centers. This is already seemingly the case with their construction being mimicked in a number of other major financial cities worldwide such as Sydney, Hong Kong, and Tokyo and, with more sensible height limits of course placed upon them, in London (See Image 8). One architect interviewed in 2016 already noted that in the United States “San Francisco, Miami, and Boston already have mini–needle towers underway,“ and “Other cities such as Seattle and Atlanta will follow.”[ii]
Following that bad alien colonization storyline, the projection is that in the coming decades the new extra-sovereign masters of humanity will raise up many more such gleaming towers to look down from as they further separate themselves from the rest of us. Like master puppeteers, these scions of predatory capitalism are engaged in a sustained global insurgent campaign that is neither understood nor recognized by lesser political elites, the middle strata, or the masses. Instead, we simply marvel at the pretty new shimmering needle-like structures arising in our cities, quite blissfully unaware of the dystopian socio-economic futures they may represent for our children and our children’s children.
Table 1. Urban Techno-Palaces of the Global Elite
Source: Online Newspaper Articles and Real Estate Information
Image ; Billion Dollar House of Mukesh Ambani, Mumbai, India
Image ; One57 (“The Billionaire Building”), Manhattan, New York, USA
Image ; 432 Park Avenue
(“Tallest Residential Tower in the Western Hemisphere”), Manhattan, New York, USA
Image ; 56 Leonard (“Jenga Skyscraper”), Tribeca, New York, USA
Image ; 220 Central Park, Manhattan, New York, USA
Image ; 111 West 57th Street (“Steinway Tower”), Manhattan, New York, USA
Image ; 53W53; 53 West 53 (“The Lipstick Building”), Manhattan, New York, USA
Image ; One Nine Elms (“River and City Towers”), Vauxhall, London, UK
Image ; 225 West 57th Street (“Central Park Tower”), Manhattan, New York, USA https://www.cityrealty.com/nyc/midtown-west/central-park-tower-225-west-57th-street/58211
[i] Mark Cooper, “Svelte Density: Needle Towers Puncture the Sky.” Urban Land. 14 March 2016, https://urbanland.uli.org/planning-design/svelte-density-needle-towers-puncture-sky/.
Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Ligouri Bunker, Eds., Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance. London: Routledge, 2014.
Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, Eds., Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism. New York: The New Press, 2008.
Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.
Nils Gilman, Jesse Goldhammer, and Steven Weber, Eds., Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century. New York: Continuum, 2011.
David Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
All opinions are strictly those of the authors and in no way reflect the viewpoints of any U.S. Governmental, academic, or corporate entity.