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?

    Marketing collateral is an atypical and overlooked object of academic study for several seemingly self-evident reasons: it features articles of pure commercial utility that appear to yield no intellectual return; it exists fundamentally to sway prospective buyers and is thus a superficial, imprecise and transient representation of the final built architecture; even though it occupies the upper echelons of residential development, collateral in its current laissez-faire incarnation has 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 (incidentally also the name of a marketing software used by estate agencies), or, as author Sara Stevens puts it in its true active form, salescraft. Yet as investments pour into swiftly gentrifying urban neighborhoods and 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 after all. By closely contending with the particularities of luxury residential print media, this project seeks to set aside previously held assumptions about the real estate image economy and examine its underlying media politics.