If you read the print edition of the New York Times and open the weekend magazine, you are immediately greeted with the guillotine-bait that is the real-estate ads in the opening pages. Sandwiched between the table of contents and the Patek Phillippe ad, these advertisements pitch “residences” to the highest end of the Manhattan (and occasionally Brooklyn) real-estate market. One of “46 generous residences of 1,700 to 7,000 square feet” in Tribeca’s 70 Vestry can be yours, from $5 million and up. Or what about “Messana O’Rorke’s refreshingly contemporary designs” in the 1-4 bedroom “residences” of 200 east 62nd street?
On the one hand, the ads market these apartments in a way no reasonable person could ever approach housing: as a collector’s item, like an expensive artwork or high-end designer gown. There is the emphasis on the designers, sometimes their architects, as if these ads are addressed to true cognoscenti and appreciators of postmodernism. On the other hand, their easily most grating quality is the uniformity with which are marketed as “residences,” which is ostensibly where someone lives, not an object s/he collects.
Why this emphasis on “residence”? Part of it is a sense of exclusivity, of course–you plebeians live in apartments, maybe houses, on friend’s couches, etc. Those who appreciate fine architecture live in a different category of housing altogether. The other reason may be compensatory–these are called “residences” because they are almost certainly not actually intended to be their buyers’ main residence. These are sold, instead, to international billionaires as part of an investment portfolio–it’s likely that no one ever gets to appreciate that hideous statue, above. Or they are sold to shell companies laundering the assets of anonymous, corrupt, or criminal buyers. In this sense, the marketing is almost honest–these are “residences” are meant to be collected, not “shelter” to be lived in, as 60,000 people go homeless in New York.