Ever since the definition of private property rights, use of that property and the buildings that were built upon provided vehicles for returns on capital invested. This process, emerged in British and Dutch economies of the 15th and 16th centuries, has evolved into the real estate industry as we acknowledge it today. Parallel to commodification processes in industrialised free market economies, the real estate industry has been and is constantly developing tools and processes to enhance efficiency and liquidity of the investment vehicle; private property and the buildings that are built upon. This ongoing process has led to a growing discrepancy between real estate investors/developers as principals of buildings and architects as agents of building construction and design. In this discrepancy and the polemic public debate that has emerged with it, architects are defending moral and ethical values of building design while simultaneously forced to serve the rules of real estate industry, one of their main client groups. The controversial Principal-Agent conflict that emerges between principals of real estate and architects is the focus of this research project.

The paper presents several case studies of buildings that illustrate the relation of real estate imperatives and architecture. The case studies are buildings and building projects from the late 19th century until recently completed projects. They cover both projects designed by so called starchitects as well as buildings that have been developed with a minimal interference of architects. All buildings have been assigned by real estate investors or developers that are driven by a short or long term return (or at least a secure hedge) on their capital invested.