London’s super-elite is on one mission for the past few years— to keep extending their real estate. It’s a familiar concept. All rich people do it, right? The way they move about it is very different, however. They don’t extend their real estate over the ground by purchasing more plots. They simply dig deeper. Literally. They have introduced this new and exclusively-to-London concept where the super-elite build a whole new house underground. It starts from a basement and evolves into a mega- and three-storey house below the ground. In no form, is their basement used as a storage space. From 70 feet swimming pools accompanied by a waterfall to gyms, cinemas and Turkish sauna, the basements are no different from a luxury suite at a hotel.
However, this article is not to fangirl about modern architecture or luxury interior design. A Newcastle University professor, Roger Burrows, and his co-authors collected data on every London basement construction project from 2008 to 2019. They found out that 7000 basement additions had been built during this time span by London’s super-elite. This article is about how Londoners— rich and poor—are affected by this super-basement-fanaticism.
These basements are a London-exclusive catastrophe simply because of the material in the ground. London’s underground is caked with clay whereas America, another capitalist haven, is filled with granite. It’s much easier to dig and extend your house when it’s clay you are combatting with an axe and not granite. Now, because we are digging underground, the groundwater table is disrupted and all hell breaks loose when the rain comes. Exhibit A: what happened to the house of Brian May, the Queen guitarist and a considerably wealthy person. He’s not the only one. Big basement designs invite sewage water in your houses. Engineers have tried to explain that it is impossible to construct anything with the pipes and pumps in London. Some houses have also collapsed in the middle of constructing a basement. Yet, it continues. Simply because of commercial greed.
The super-rich manipulates the real estate market. Super-basements are high in demand. With 7000 basement additions— some rising as high as three-storeys— the real estate market is constantly favouring the property held by these rich individuals. Additionally, the real estate market is disrupted by these new additions because the price of these buildings with basements rise. The worst part is that these changes are not made for their own purpose. Most of the people who spend a lot on construction barely live there for a few years and then sell it to another person. It is purely for commercial purposes.
It has led to real estate prices shooting through the roof and has also widened the inequality in the capital city. While there are high-earning individuals with pools that turn into dance floors in minutes, the size of living rooms built in average-income families is a third smaller than those built in the 1970s. While some houses are getting smaller spaces, others are getting longer. The super-rich own the entire land on which their property stands so they can legally dig under and create an alternate space altogether.
Architects argue that most of the people with basements are not super-wealthy. They are simply people working in the city or corporate law— wealthy but not oligarchs. They are working parents building a new room for the in-house nanny, and not a pool for their convenience. However, the argument still stands that the wealthy are profiting off these new elements and the middle class is still suffering.
Post-Brexit, property prices have fallen in London and policies on basement construction has tightened. However, the damage is done and irreversible. Burrows believes the trend has not diminished and neither has the greed to own more.