Collecting Architecture

Felix Salmon tackles the interesting question of why the architecture market is does not follow the art market responding to a blog post by David Galbraith lamenting the low prices for works by reknowned architects.

A great piece of architecture in a desirable location can sell at a premium, and a great piece of architecture which can be packed up into six containers and reconstructed anywhere in the world will sell for even more. But in general people looking to buy important architecture only want to do so if there’s a reasonable chance of them actually living in the house in question — at least for some of the year.

What’s interesting about this observation is that the universal determinant of real estate value seems to have no bearing on the value of architectural works. Salmon links to the Paul Rudolph house that was demolished in Westport, CT–a highly desirable residential location–and a number of Richard Neutra houses in Palm Springs were demolished too despite being in what might be considered an ideal location. (Someone might do an interesting analysis of the fate of the many architectural experiments that took place in the Hamptons.)

It would seem where architecture is concerned the reverse of the wealth effect applies. Architecturally significant structures seem highly vulnerable to changing tastes and inflexible when the structure is out-moded (look at what has happened to Saarinen’s TWA terminal at New York’s JFK.) So great architecture trades at a discount because it cannot be used but must be “preserved.”

Why Architecture Isn’t Collectible (Felix Salmon/Reuters)