How the "global super-rich" have honeycombed London's posh neighbourhoods with sub-basements, sub-sub-basements, and sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-basements

London — ground zero for financial shenanigans, money-laundering, and the conversion of housing from a human necessity to an asset-class — has spent decades converting itself to an inert, open-air vault full of status-displaying safe-deposit boxes owned by offshore criminals and oligarchs who "improve" their empty properties with absurd fripperies to make them more flippable come the day that their local warlord purges them and they need the ready cash.

London's priciest, emptiest neighbourhoods still have highly flammable pockets of proles, but they are being ethnically cleansed as quickly as "market forces" will allow. In the meantime, the super-rich are making the most of their own plots by digging and digging, creating pharaonic crypts full of pools, collectible cars, robotically deployed dance-floors and other asset-enhancing status-markers.

In Mapping the Subterranean Geographies of Plutocratic London: Luxified Troglodytism? from University of Newcastle Architecture researchers Sophie Baldwin, Elizabeth Holroyd, and Roger Burrows, more than 4,650 "luxury basements" are identified and classed as one of "standard, large or mega" as a way of conceptualizing "the 'plutocraticization' of London."

These deep stores of wealth comprise "76 swimming pools, 456 cinemas, 996 gyms, 381 wine stores and cellars, 340 games and recreation rooms, 241 saunas or steam rooms, 115 staff quarters, including bedrooms for nannies and au pairs, 65 garages, 40 libraries, two gun stores, a car museum, a banquet hall and an artificial beach."

At the same time, London's housing for even moderately rich people is shrinking: average living room sizes have fallen by a third since the 1970s.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Kensington and Chelsea, the capital's richest borough, which has about 4,900 UHNWIs, and has the highest number of large and mega-basements, often two or more storeys deep and extended under the garden. Beth Holroyd, co-author of the study, says variations in the scale and sumptuousness of basements reveal the wealth gap between London's merely rich, such as corporate lawyers and accountants, and the global super-rich, including bankers and oligarchs. Holroyd says: "There is a clear pattern of association between the level of neighbourhood affluence and both the size and extravagance of the basements. The pool is a clear marker of wealth."

On Tregunter Road, in the Boltons conservation area of Chelsea renowned for its Italianate Victorian housing, the researchers found 22 approved basements, with features including 12 swimming pools and five cinemas. Five of these basements are standard-sized, 11 are classified as large and six as mega. One of the mega-basements, with a pool, gym and car lift, is in an 8,000 sq ft townhouse on the market for £26m. Four of the basements are currently under construction. Outside one, a huge red crane lowers building materials into the rear garden, under which, planning documents suggest, a two-storey basement with a pool, cinema, gym, wine store, steam room, salon and staff room is being created. Another two-storey basement with almost identical features is being excavated under a house across the street.

'A pool in the basement is a clear marker of wealth': how the super-rich are digging down
[David Batty/The Guardian]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Sarah Lee/The Guardian)