A Tour Through the Monuments of Manhattan Real Estate: Vols. I & II
Columbia GSAPP, 2018

Research project



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Abstract

Or, A Note on Real Estate Salescraft

Enter any luxury apartment showroom in town and you will find this document—or rather, a comprehensive suite of documents. Booklets, brochures, business cards, catalogues, price schedules… The strategic presentation of pre-sales collateral in residential real estate marketing, in all its print finery, is by now a common practice in establishing “point of difference” branding and consumer reassurance at the property pre-sales phase; these documents are tangible proxies for high-rise projects yet to be materialized. Each collection more elaborately executed than the last, marketing ephemera exists to legitimate luxury development without needing to be a legitimate document as such: they do not form part of the contract of sale; unit plans do not have to be legally accurate; renders and descriptions are provisional impressions… On what basis, then, does this document function? What quasi-fictions about real estate desire and hyper-commodified “urban living” does it perpetuate, and what discrepancies, contradictions, asymmetries, embellishments and omissions might one find inscribed into its substrate?

Luxury residential marketing collateral is an atypical and overlooked site of academic study for several seemingly self-evident reasons. Its pure commercial utility appears to yield no intellectual return; even as it occupies the upper echelons of residential development, it holds no genuine cultural, historical nor archive value. Despite the document’s ubiquity, high profile, and active role in the capitalist production of architectural desire, its genre and genealogy have eluded us; we know little of its contribution to what one might call estatecraft, or, as Sara Stevens puts it in true active form, salescraft.

Yet as investments pour into gentrifying urban neighborhoods, and as luxury off-plan units continue to fly off the high-rise shelf, well before the fact of building construction, perhaps there is more to be said about the deployment—and dare I say, the properties—of marketing collateral. By closely contending with the specificity of print and digital luxury marketing media and their spatial counterpart of the sales gallery, this project sets aside previously held assumptions about the real estate image economy and examines its underlying media politics.