Time and again, architects and investors demonstrate their visionary ability to create an optimistic route out of economic crisis by building for the future. Cathy Hawker explores how form very much follows finance

Perhaps the most symbolic of all 20th-century skyscrapers, The Empire State Building in Manhattan, NYC, was constructed during the peak years of the Great Depression (1929-1933)

Building iconic architecture in a time of great economic uncertainty demands steely nerves and deep pockets, yet history is filled with prominent illustrations of how the creative wheel keeps turning. The Empire State Building is a prime example. Construction at the Manhattan landmark started in 1930 just as the USA fell into the Great Depression. Wall Street went into freefall, millions lost their savings and a quarter of the US workforce faced unemployment. Yet at West 34th Street, construction of the skyscraper that would be the tallest in the world for four decades continued.

A triumph of optimism? Quite possibly, but the construction industry is notoriously cyclical, and a period of gloom can be the inspiration for exciting new design. Consider the Art Deco outpourings post WWI, modernist architecture after WWII or the worldwide building boom following the recession of 2000-2004. For architectural studios reeling from the effects of Covid-19, the knowledge that good things potentially could come will offer positive reassurance.

“Architecture always goes through a period of renewal and exuberance after dark times,” points out Sir George Iacobescu, Executive Chairman of Canary Wharf Group. “Architects adapt to the new reality but it is also an opportunity to drive forward positive new ideas. After world wars and recessions comes a flowering of creativity and a determination to build bigger, better and more beautiful than before.”

Mill Neck Manor House is a prime example of the 1920’s Tudor Revival style that bloomed in popularity on Long Island’s North Shore

Sir George has experienced this first-hand. He is the former CEO of Canary Wharf Group, the thriving 97-acre financial, business, residential and retail estate created from a portion of London’s derelict docklands. A continuous presence on site since the 1980s when construction began, he has experienced both boom and bust, including the 1990 recession that heralded a collapse in commercial real estate across London’s markets.

Today Canary Wharf is home to firms including JP Morgan, Clifford Chance, KPMG and Barclays and has expanded its portfolio to offer quality residential homes. It has started sales at One Park Drive, an exhilarating circular geometric tower designed by award-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron with 468 apartments over 58 floors. The fluid architectural style with apartments stacked unconventionally to allow for double height balconies is mesmerising.

“As we emerge from adversity and austerity, architecture becomes an enthusiastic incarnation of the indomitable human spirit,” Sir George says. “As F Scott Fitzgerald put it, ‘that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again’.”

As One Park Drive rises above the River Thames, it is a reminder that architectural styles continually evolve. Historically after a major global downturn there may be a pause but then comes a renaissance, a reaction.

This trend is certainly real, agrees Dr Carol Herselle Krinsky, Professor of Art History at New York University and a member of the Society of Architectural Historians (sah.org), although she argues that it is more a matter of investment than of architecture.

“After a depression, investment money may still be available and after one daring investor produces a successful investment, others tend to follow,” Professor Herselle Krinsky says. “Architecture is a by-product of real-estate investment. The architect is not an autonomous creature but rather works for the hand that feeds him.”

This concept was examined in depth by Professor Carol Willis from Columbia University in her 1995 book Form Follows Finance. The title is a play on the much-quoted concept of “form ever follows function,” the idea that a building’s design should primarily reflect its intended purpose.

The book explores the importance of speculative development and the impact of real-estate cycles on the forms of buildings – with special reference to the skyscrapers of her hometown, New York City.

These ideas work equally well in a domestic setting and have done for the best part of a century. One hundred years ago, as the Empire State Building was being designed, Paris was a capital of art and culture at the forefront of the Art Deco movement, while London was enthralled by the Bright Young Things, wealthy and beautiful aristocrats who revelled in a thriving social revolution. New Yorkers too were relishing their new-found post-WWI affluence and for the wealthiest of them all, that meant a home on the Gold Coast, the North Shore of Long Island.

As we emerge from adversity and austerity, architecture becomes an enthusiastic incarnation of the indomitable human spirit… As F Scott Fitzgerald put it, ‘the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again’

Sir George Iacobescu, Executive Chairman, Canary Wharf Group


Perhaps there is no better embodiment of the idea that a crisis can manifest opportunity than Jay Gatsby, the enigmatic hero of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. As the story goes, Gatsby lived alone in an opulent mansion in the fictional village of West Egg on Long Island. For Fitzgerald however there was nothing imaginary about this most prestigious stretch of East Coast America, the so-called Gold Coast. He and his wife Zelda were residents there and saw the magnificent homes that the rich and famous built for themselves.

Overlooking Long Island Sound and 45 minutes from Downtown Manhattan, the pebbly North Shore is where palatial mansions were owned by a roll call of illustrious American tycoons; the Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, Hearsts and Astors all owned magnificent homes – many designed in lavish European style.

Today the names might have changed but the prestige remains, says Maggie Keats of Knight Frank associates Douglas Elliman.

“Sands Point, Port Washington, Manhasset and Plandome are especially popular with buyers for their proximity to New York City, position on the Long Island Rail Road and beautiful neighbourhoods,” she explains. “Other desirable areas include Oyster Bay, Lattingtown, Old Westbury and Brookville. Waterfront homes and estates with large acreage carry a high premium.”

Residents come for the excellent schools and high quality of life. “The Hamptons, because of its even-higher price point, tends to attract buyers who can afford to own more than one significant residence and is more of a summer colony,” says Keats. “The Gold Coast is less seasonal with a year-round community.”

Herzog & de Meuron’s One Park Drive in London’s Canary Wharf is one of several developments to reach for the sky post-GFC

Currently on the market, a beautiful 1920s mansion that fronts both the bay and Long Island Sound in Northport is $1,995,000. The award-winning renovation keeps the charm of the original home yet makes a totally contemporary 21st-century home.

Joe Graziose, Executive VP, Residential Development at developers RXR, is building for a new generation of Gold Coast homeowners. His project Garvies Point in Glen Cove is a high-end residential community on a 56-acre waterfront site where residents share 22,000 square feet of extraordinary wellness and leisure facilities.

RXR have spent fifteen years preparing the former industrial site, turning it into an artfully landscaped resort with boat berths and 28 acres of undeveloped open space. A regular ferry service will connect Garvies Point to New York City.

“Our buyers include empty nesters moving from large single-family homes, young professionals and families from Manhattan looking for a weekend home,” says Graziose. “They share the desire for a hassle-free home in a beautiful location with 24-hour concierge and outstanding amenities. Garvies Point offers that lifestyle.”

One hundred years after the Gilded Era built their Long Island mansions, this much-loved east-coast neighbourhood is ready to roar for another generation of homeowners who will no doubt develop their own style.


In Paris the Roaring Twenties became known as Les Années Folles, the ‘crazy years’. Americans arrived in number, thrilled by the bohemian freedom they discovered. This so-called ‘Lost Generation’ included Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, writers who catalogued the time’s joyful excesses.

Paris was once again a capital of art and culture, brimming with creativity and vigour. Dancer Josephine Baker introduced Charleston-infused music, Dali experimented with modernism, Picasso with cubism and Magritte with surrealism.

The city was responsible for Art Deco, an architectural style named after the Exposition Internationale des Art Décoratifs held in Paris in 1925, and Art Nouveau flourishes gave way to symmetry and simplicity. The Folies Bergère was given a new Art Deco façade in 1926, the same style later adopted in New York on the Chrysler Building.

The creative icons from Les Années Folles centred on Montparnasse on the Left Bank and their legacy is still felt in the city. Today, cross the Seine, stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens and take a seat under the red awnings of historic cafés such as Le Dôme or La Closerie des Lilas and imagine the 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry Miller.


London might not have had the artistic outpouring of Paris but it too entered into the fever of the Roaring Twenties and it was writers who catalogued the decadence and luxury of the times. Evelyn Waugh wrote Vile Bodies, satirising the Bright Young Things, the wealthy and beautiful aristocrats who partied to excess in the 1920s and were a match for their Parisian counterparts.

Writer Nancy Mitford also described this privileged set, despite being part of it with her famous sister Diana. The Bright Young Things arguably began the trend for modern celebrity, with their antics documented in newspapers and their parties photographed by society favourite Cecil Beaton. The 1920s are well represented in modern-day London architecture in some exceptional Art Deco buildings.

The ship-like prow and uniform exterior of Broadcasting House in Portland Place; the four iconic chimneys of Battersea Power Station, currently entering the next stage of its life; and the Carreras Cigarette Factory in Camden all take their roots from 1920s style.

The latter includes references to Egyptian Revival architecture too, a nod to the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by British archaeologist Howard Carter, an event which electrified Londoners, and in parts the city’s architectural identity. From the enamel frieze depicting ancient scenes on Ideal House in Soho, to Arcadia Works near Mornington Crescent, Ancient Egypt’s gilded splendour is etched across the faces of London’s best-loved buildings.


Knight Frank’s Group Executive Board tell us what they think will define real estate throughout the 2020s


The real-estate world has never experienced such huge shifts, with changing trends presenting greater opportunity. Commercially, traditional retail real estate is still adapting to e-commerce’s challenge, while student property, retirement living and healthcare offer more demographic-focused solutions. The changing face of work means we require different things from the office space. This is on top of the massive infrastructure spend in emerging markets, which presents the firm with exciting opportunities to expand. In the residential world, people will continue to move to adapt to their needs and the rental sector will explode. Much will challenge the sector throughout the 2020s – ESG; impact investment; the rapid emergence of technology – but it’s a chance to provide our clients with a service in new and brilliant ways.

You will never be able to remove the human element of estate agency. For the modern-day agent, a combination of the very best customer experience, leading market intelligence and technology will be essential for success. With the growing significance of online agents, the traditional estate-agency model will undoubtedly change. It is likely that there will be a condensed grouping of property advisors who will offer a more personal service but cover a greater geographical area. A hybrid model, which provides customers with the best in online accessibility but still offers a strong focus on the human and personalised element across all touchpoints, I believe, will be the sector’s future across the next decade.



We’ve navigated a succession of global shocks over the past decade, and it has been – and will be – fascinating to identify how areas will harness disruption and turn the intense innovation of necessity into the momentum of success. We call these places ‘Innovation Led Cities’: urban centres that have gold-standard education facilities, embedded infrastructure, broad capital platforms and, most importantly, a resilience born of talent, energy and appetite to innovate and evolve. This is where clients will continue to find the intrinsic value of resilience as the foundation for the strongest returns on the planet. And it’s in these special, complex environments that we will identify world-class opportunities for outperformance in the 2020s.

I think the way we perceive space will continue to change to match individual needs. People aren’t going to limit their choice in property to suit a stage of life, rather what is right for them at that time. Think less ‘downsizing’ and more ‘rightsizing’. What this means for buyers will naturally differ from market to market, but we think it could change property norms dramatically in some places. For example, lateral spaces such as apartments will be considered more kindly among senior generations as well as the time-poor, as they offer greater accessibility, efficiency of space and less upkeep than a multi-level house of similar proportions.



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