The Verve Magazine

Subterranean Blues

This new movement gives new meaning to Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’. Downtown is going underground.

by Meg Kimball |

An Iceberg Home in London. Photograph courtesy of Insh.

Digging your way to Hobbit Land? Apparently in central London, the rich and mighty are. They’re called Iceberg homes. The name refers to the type of iceberg one would find in an ocean. What one views above ground is only the tip of a very larger whole—a lot more is lurking beneath the surface. In Kensington, Dorset, Chelsea, Belgravia, and Cheshire, the wealthy mud people are digging deep into their Neo-Georgian homes, adding as many as three or four underground levels. Forget the old adage 'what goes up must come down'. The wealthy are expanding their empires to the fires down below. It’s the new must-have accessory, better than any Chanel brooch. Need an underground floor to house your vintage Ferrari’s? Can do! These dugout fortifications can include private movie theatres, pools, underground discos, servant’s quarters and a spa. Some icebergs even have waterfalls! Yes, the super-wealthy are truly downwardly mobile.

Published in "The Rise of the Frankenmansion", courtesy of The Cut. Illustration by Jason Lee.

The Sunday Telegraph has said, “everyone has gone basement mad!” As early as 2010, Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi (aka ‘the choker’) dug deep and designed floors for a wine cellar and bar, a gym, and a swimming pool. Cable television tycoon David Graham has produced plans for a four-story basement that is larger than his actual house. An iceberg basement addition can increase a home's value by 15-20%. In today’s London real estate market, the average cost of a home is $760,000 according to 'The Economist'. That is roughly ten times more than the average London income.



Modern luxury now means Iceberg homes are popping up all over the world, in major cities, where the uber rich want more space for leisure in their homes. Photograph Courtesy of Insh.

Ten years ago, there were only sixty-four planning applications for basement extensions. Today the applications for building are well in excess of 1,000.

There have been many critics of this architectural movement. Famous actress Joan Collins is one of many who is deeply concerned about what the underground construction is doing to the environment and how 'iceberging' is structurally damaging other homes. So bad is this iceberg digging, it has caused nearby homes to sink so that door frames are shifting and people literally cannot exit their homes and flats. The streets are left littered with construction rubble and armies of trucks taking away tons of mud and dirt. Some streets become obstructed for extended periods of time. Could we be seeing this stateside? With city and town restrictions forbidding building upward, this could soon be a phenomenon. It happened in Redmond, Washington. The Microsoft Office Campus Headquarters iceberg their company parking lots. You rarely see a car on that site.

This new movement gives new meaning to Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’. Downtown is going underground.∎

Illustration created by Jason Lee. Courtesy of The Cut.

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