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Iceberg Homes, the Underground Mansions of London Billionaires

Who wouldn’t want a little extra space in their homes? In a world where real estate is becoming increasingly expensive, the rich of London found a loophole in the laws. Since the past decade, there have been grand multi-storied basements popping up, or rather down into the ground, under the houses of the rich and affluent. Dubbed “iceberg homes”, these basements are a world unto themselves and here are more details about them.

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The “Iceberg Homes,” named so because, like an iceberg, they are much larger below the surface, became a common trend among many billionaires in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea. These homes contain large underground spaces with luxurious amenities and more rooms.

Iceberg Homes
Image Source: archdaily

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea of London is well known for being covered by more domestic buildings than anywhere else in England and has a higher proportion of people with high incomes (around £100,000 per year) than any other district in the country. As a way to enrich their lives with more luxury, the rich there have started building multi-storied basements. These basements often have private cinemas, spas, swimming pools, bowling alleys, servants’ quarters, gym, car lifts, garages, wine cellars, and even museums. Celebrities, such as the composer of The Phantom of the Opera Andrew Lloyd Webber, actress Nicole Kidman, and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, all have their own underground extensions.

The idea of building downwards is a way for the billionaires and their architects to get around the laws restricting construction of tall buildings in the city. As of 2012, more than 800 planning applications for basement extensions were accepted and only 90 were refused. 

Iceberg House Design
Image Source: dailymail

Being a historic city, London has a very strict set of rules regarding how tall a building can be. This often comes as a disappointment to the rich who want much more than a three story building with luxurious spaces and amenities to live in. Despite being financially able to do so, they are legally prevented from adding more space upward to their homes. However, the architects soon found the loophole in the laws that existed to cover everything above the ground, but nothing beneath it. So, instead, they started designing super-basements.

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The construction works have attracted many complaints from neighbors regarding the noise and the compromised structural integrity of the ground under their homes. There have been incidents of accidental flooding and sinkholes.

Iceberg House Collapse
Image Source: richmondandtwickenhamtimes

According to Kensington and Chelsea Council Cabinet member Tim Coleridge, the construction of these multi-storied basements have been “the single greatest planning concern our residents have expressed to us in living memory.” The neighbors of the owners had to tolerate years of vibrations, dust, and noise during the drilling, not to mention the traffic congestion. Recently, a £1.15 million house owned by a man named Omar Alajaji collapsed while building an “iceberg basement” and a two-story extension.

During another incident, the foundations of a neighbor’s house shifted so badly that she was trapped inside her house, unable to open the door. Another concern the cabinet member Coleridge discovered is that construction machinery was being buried underground because it was cheaper than lifting them back out. Each of these machines cost £5,000 and it is estimated that £5 million worth of machinery is now buried under London.

Kensington and Chelsea have passed new legislation to control and regulate the construction of large basement extensions. The restrictions include a limit on the size and number of stories depending on the size of the original house, and a requirement to include construction traffic management plan. 

Iceberg House Illustation
Image Source: Ben Hasler

The new guidelines require the underground basement to be restricted to a single story unless the site is exceptionally large. Another restriction is on how far the extension can undermine the garden, which can be decreased from 85 percent to 50 percent. Any new planning applications for underground extensions should also include a construction traffic management plan so that no one would be inconvenienced.

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