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Rendering of the entrance to Pagani Residences

Why are luxury car brands suddenly building skyscrapers?

The past 18 months has seen a flurry of skyscrapers unveiled by luxury car makers including Bentley, Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin. Nat Barker reports on the growing phenomenon of car-branded architecture.

"Fans of the brand should not just be able to drive a Porsche, they should be able to live in one," said Porsche Lifestyle Group CEO Stefan Buescher of the brand's decision to move into real estate.

While real estate itself is clearly lucrative, the car companies have other motivations for building the residences.

Pull up outside Aston Martin Residences – a 66-storey skyscraper in Miami completed this month – and you will be greeted by the marque's famous winged logo.

Aston Martin Skyscraper
Aston Martin Residences was recently completed in Miami. Photo courtesy of Aston Martin. Top image by We Are Visuals

"Entering the real estate sector is a showcase of design mastery, tapping into a profound understanding of our customer lifestyle and personal preferences," Bentley Motors director of product and marketing Steven De Ploey told Dezeen, echoing the sentiments of its peers.

The key word here is "lifestyle". Luxury automotive brands make no secret of the fact that they increasingly want to be much more to their customers than mere vehicle manufacturers.

"It's about creating a 360-degree brand experience," added Porsche's Buescher.

Porsche Design Tower Miami
Porsche kicked off the trend with Porsche Design Tower Miami, completed in 2017. Photo courtesy of Porsche

Porsche can make a strong claim to have started the trend, unveiling plans for the 198-metre-tall Porsche Design Tower – complete with car elevators – in 2013 and completing the Miami project in 2017. A second project has just completed in Stuttgart.

Part of its motivation was a realisation that demand for "luxury" design is becoming more about status than a desire for top-quality products.

"Modern luxury is defined less by the product itself, the brand name or the price, but by the overall product and brand experience," Buescher said.

"The Porsche Design Tower Miami is therefore not only a symbol of architectural excellence, but also a testimony to our commitment to offering our customers ultra-exclusive experiences."

Luxury brands of all kinds are diversifying, but this idea of being the defining aspect of the consumer's life carries particular weight among car makers, according to industry expert Andrew Graves.

"Customer retention is really important to this industry," he told Dezeen.

"They try to make a 'Bentley-ness' about the lifestyle so you don't decide to buy a Bugatti instead. And if you have your apartment in Miami, you'll stay with them for life."

Bugatti Home collection at Milan design week 2024
Bugatti showcased a furniture collection at Milan design week last month. Photo by Bugatti

Luxury car brands have been using design to sell a lifestyle to their customers for some time. Lifestyle brand Porsche Design, for example, was founded more than 50 years ago.

Fashion and accessories have been a particular focus, though interiors are another trend, with Bentley and Bugatti both exhibiting new furniture collections at Milan design week last month.

Moving into architecture, then, may be a natural progression. And there are other reasons that residential real estate makes sense for luxury car brands.

For one thing, sports cars have a way of provoking astonishing enthusiasm among owners.

"You have incredibly fanatical owners," said Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman. "Many Aston Martin owners are collectors – some have more than 10 cars."

For these kinds of customers, Aston Martin launched an architecture service for homes designed to show off their cars in 2019 – and is currently close to completing its first project in upstate New York, with another two in the works in Tokyo.

Black-cedar exterior of Sylvan Rock house by S3 Architecture and Aston Martin
Aston Martin offers an architecture service to design homes around owners' prized automobiles. Image by S3 Architecture, courtesy of Corcoran Country Living

Real-estate investing is often a passion among those wealthy enough to have a luxury car collection numbering in the double digits, as Bentley's De Ploey acknowledges.

"It's an exciting area of the luxury market and the number-one passion for both our existing as well as our future prospects," he said.

Such fierce brand loyalty is a valuable asset in the property marke and the majority of developers can only dream of having such a high profile.

For instance, Reichman explained, an Aston Martin buyer will commonly put down a hefty deposit around five years before receiving their car.

"If you're a car buyer of exclusive, limited edition cars, then actually you're quite used to the process of buying off-plan," he explained.

Aston Martin Skyscraper
Miami has emerged as the epicentre of branded residences. Photo by Aston Martin

That is music to a property developer's ears – and according to Reichman, Aston Martin Residences was in the extremely rare position of being almost entirely sold out before it opened.

Meanwhile, it was reported that 22 billionaires had purchased apartments in Porsche Design Tower by the time the project was made public in 2013.

So there appears to be demand among the super-rich for car-branded skyscrapers – though Graves believes there is an even simpler reason for the rapid uptake of the trend.

"There is this thing that happens in the car industry called the herd effect," he said. "When one does something the rest panic and think 'we don't want to be left out'."

In keeping with Graves' copycat theory, Miami has emerged as the undisputed world capital of car-branded skyscrapers – with Porsche, Aston Martin, Bentley, Mercedes and Pagani all choosing the city for their projects.

"Miami is most certainly, I'd say, the birthplace of branded residences," agreed Mikael Hamaoui, founder and CEO of Riviera Horizons – the Floridian developer building Pagani Residences.

"When you think about places to live, Miami of all cities is a lifestyle – you move to Miami for the lifestyle," he told Dezeen. "And so, being a lifestyle city, having lifestyle brands is a natural connection, it just makes perfect sense."

Despite the obvious similarities, those behind car-branded residences are keen to emphasise the uniqueness of their own project.

Each has sought to describe how the architecture reflects the design ethos of the corresponding cars, often using indistinct terms like "performance", "craftsmanship" and "DNA".

Some design decisions do stand out however – most notably (and controversially) a car elevator in Porsche Design Tower and the upcoming Bentley Residences.

Car elevator in Porsche Design Tower Miami
Porsche Design Tower Miami features a car elevator known as "the Dezervator". Photo by Porsche

Named "the Dezervator" after Dezer Development boss Gil Dezer, the partner on both projects, it enables residents to park right inside their apartments high up from street level.

"In keeping with our identity, we have [...] consciously decided against design elements that have no function other than pure showmanship," Buescher nevertheless declared of the Porsche tower.

Other projects make subtler concessions to the car.

At Aston Martin Residences, for example, developed by G&G Business Developments and designed by architecture studio Bodus Mian Anger in collaboration with Reichman, the parking ramp is angled specially to avoid scraping the front of a low-lying sports car.

"The car parking is incredible," said Reichman. "But we wanted to concentrate more on the home than the car in this instance – it was more about the drama of living."

That manifests itself chiefly in the form of a cantilevered pool deck on the 55th floor.

Aston Martin Skyscraper
A cantilevered swimming pool deck juts out near the top of Aston Martin Residences. Photo by Aston Martin

Similarly, while Pagani Residences will feature "preferred parking" and a private lounge for Pagani owners, the building's main gesture to the Italian brand is its relatively modest size, in a display of hyper-exclusivity deemed fitting for a company that manufactures only around 40 cars a year.

"All the other branded residences out there are 150 to 800-unit buildings," said Hamaoui. "That's not Pagani. We didn't want to build a mega-building, we want to build a very hand-curated and crafted, very special product."

In addition to the Dezervator, Bentley has selected other visual nods to its vehicles – with Sieger Suarez Architects' glass facade bearing diamond-shaped panels that reference Bentley car interiors.

The ambitions of the car brands making the move into real estate go well beyond the average luxury residential tower.

Rendering of Pagani Residences Miami
Pagani says its more modestly sized building is a reflection of the hypercar brand's extreme exclusivity. Image by We Are Visuals

"It was about changing the landscape of Miami," said Aston Martin's Reichman.

"We didn't want to build just another building, we wanted to create a technical and architectural masterpiece that would set new standards in the luxury housing market," said Porsche's Buescher.

"To date, there is probably no other building that has such an innovative concept at the highest level of quality."

The question now is whether other marques can sustain the momentum, and whether car-branded residences become a long-term trend or a passing fad.

"The problem is once everyone is doing this it's a zero-sum game," said Graves. "What can they offer you next? It opens up the possibility of aircraft and ships."

Rendering of Bentley Residences
The facade of Bentley Residences will bear the diamond shapes commonly found in the interiors of the brand's cars. Image courtesy of Bentley

Pagani has already designed a plane interior, while Aston Martin unveiled plans for a submarine in 2017 and Porsche recently collaborated on a speed boat, as well as offering design consultation services for yachts and jets.

Meanwhile, the car-branded residences phenomenon shows little sign of slowing down – with Porsche and Aston Martin both eager for more.

"We see great potential in this field and are in promising talks for projects in top locations in various major international cities," said Buescher.

"If someone calls tomorrow and says we have an amazing space right on the edge of Central Park and we're going to do this, then we'd say absolutely let's do it," echoed Reichman. "If it's the right partner, right position and the right mentality, then yes, for sure."

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