Where else could we be headed? Artist Theo Games Spetrophilos talks to We Make Money Not Art regarding his Air Futures project, a dystopian vision of a future commodities market for the air around us:
Generally speaking, owning or renting land or a building gives one the right to use and develop the air rights. What would happen if the regulation of air rights was given free rein, if air became a commodity that could be bought and sold? How would the trade physically manifest itself? Can we imagine that one day an Air Bank will open in the heart of Manhattan?
Air Futures is the speculative evolution of the air rights trade in New York, where volumes of ‘air’ are bought and sold to facilitate complex development manoeuvres over the city’s grid.
At the moment, the air rights trade allows the transfer of these developable volumes under strict rules. For example, you sell the space above your building, and the new owner can build his new building over your plot or bend over it. This happened in 1962 with the Pan Am (now Metlife) Building, the first foray into air rights, where the largest office building at the time was constructed over the historic Grand Central Terminal. The value of these air volumes have the potential to be enormous, for example, in 2005 Christ Church on Park Ave and 60th sold its air rights to developers building on the same block for $30 million.
What fascinated me, was that people where, and are paying millions of dollars for ‘air’, that is ‘air’ as a legal entity – a potential future developable volume that could reap even more gains if moved elsewhere, and perhaps joined with other volumes of air.