Demand for luxury bunkers is booming

The demand for bunker apartments for the super-rich skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the invasion of Ukraine, demand is increasing, a symptom of a global anxiety that should be addressed differently.

At the end of the summer, clickbait sites and tabloids reported that Kanye West, the rapper-producer and creative director of Yeezy, is being Kanye once again, buying “a house in the shape of a bunker” for the stratospheric amount of $57.25 million: “Kanye living in a parking garage”, “a high-end bunker for a cult leader”, “a concrete bunker-style home without a garden in Malibu”. Hilarious headlines, apart from the fact that the villa bought by Kanye is one of only two private residences realised by Tadao Ando in the United States. Along with Cerro Pelon Ranch, a house, stable and mausoleum designed for fashion designer and director Tom Ford.

But there is more. Kanye West’s radar for the zeitgeist and trends of the future. He has not limited himself at trainers or his lamented partnership with Virgil Abloh, but has come to a friction point that goes far beyond design: the survivalism trend among the super-rich, which includes methods aimed at “preparing” for catastrophic events, from storing food, building shelters and learning self-defence techniques, with the common goal of surviving beyond the civilisation collapse.

As the New York Times, the Guardian and Bloomberg have reported, luxury bunkers and secret villas in New Zealand are a topic of hush-hush conversation for Hollywood stars, top sportsmen, Silicon Valley CEOs and one-percenters. And so, although Kanye’s closeness to Ando stems primarily from their shared passion for the Wabi-Sabi philosophy and minimalist architecture – already explored in the conversion of the McMansion when he married Kim Kardashian – which Axel Vervoordt, Claudio Silvestrin, Vincent Van Duysen and Peter Wirtz worked on, in his own way Kanye has often been attracted by the themes of prepper culture – as survivalism is commonly called.


Authors and journalists such as Evan Osnos and Mark O’Connell report that many super-rich have moved on from cocktail party chatter to action, spending upwards of $10 million to build underground bunkers under their villas in Napa Valley, featuring Jacuzzis, cinemas, billiard rooms, garages and stables. Others, including Peter Thiel, PayPal’s co-founder and Facebook’s first investor, have preferred to spend more money on utopian and bucolic locations, buying one or more villas in the Queenstown district (New Zealand). An uncontaminated territory rich in resources, famous for being The Lord of the Rings’ set. 

In the wake of the post-9/11 terror, luxury bunker construction companies have skyrocketed in recent years. In the US, Rising S Bunkers and Atlas Survival Shelters are building private bunkers, while entrepreneurs such as Robert Vicino and Larry Hall have started developing full-fledged prepper companies (in the case of Vivos xPoint) and millionaire preppers (in the case of Survival Condo and Vivos Europa One).

Pionen White Mountains, Albert France-Lanord Architects. Courtesy Albert France-Lanord Architects
Pionen White Mountains, Albert France-Lanord Architects. Courtesy Albert France-Lanord Architects

Safety solutions entrepreneurs like talking about their customers as sensible and wealthy people, who prefer to pay a little extra to avoid that little anxiety about the potential undesired arrival of unquenchable fires, bacteria bombs, nuclear attacks, social or economic collapse, tsunamis or ice ages.

In recent days, following the more or less justified concern over the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, luxury bunkers are again a hot topic in Europe. The news that Northsafe, the company owned by Mantua entrepreneur Giulio Cavicchioli, has received 500 new orders only in the last two weeks has spread around the world. Moreover, there are other companies in Europe that have been working on luxury bunker solutions for some time, such as the French company Artemis Protection and the Prague-based company Oppidum, renowned among professionals in the field for the construction of the world’s largest underground fortified building for private use.

Apart from extemporaneous fears and what Cavicchioli himself has called “useless hysteria”, it is inevitable to note that many of these projects could prove to be failures or useless. The growing demand for bunkers in northern Italy, for example, without bringing up geopolitical dynamics and atomic agreements, ignores the simple fact that an atomic fallout can be dispersed over a maximum radius of 500 km.  


In the case of other apocalyptic events, such as the economic or social civilisation collapse, climate-related environmental catastrophes or nuclear winters, many of the safety solutions in these bunkers would not protect their guests for long enough. The private bunkers built by Rising S Bunkers, Atlas Survival Shelters, Northsafe and Artemis Protection can store water and food for up to five months. Electricity, vital for powering the ventilation systems, is the biggest problem. If external sources of electricity fail, some companies, such as Northsafe or Atlas Survival Shelters, have devised a hand-cranked fan, which would force the unfortunate bunker guests to turn a piece of iron by hand for days or perhaps months, in a desperate attempt to breathe.

It is true that companies working on larger-scale projects rely on technologies that should ensure greater autonomy, such as diesel generators or submarine batteries. And they provide other advantages too.

Vivos Xpoint, Robert Vicino. Courtesy Terra Vivos
Vivos Xpoint, Robert Vicino. Courtesy Terra Vivos

With Survival Condo, founder Larry Hall imagines shaping an underground community of millionaires equipped with weapons, Japanese toilets to save on toilet paper storage, and underground vegetable gardens following the findings of the Biosphere 2 project, the famous glass and steel structure designed to contain a complete, self-sufficient ecosystem in the Arizona desert, later used to cultivate hydroponic vegetable gardens in space bases. A sort of spaceship heading underground, rather than to Mars (where Elon Musk probably hopes to save himself). The plan seems infallible, but again it ignores a simple fact: members of armed micro-societies experiencing economic and social collapse are unlikely to coexist in peace. You do not need to watch the horror TV series The Purge to imagine that the social disorder that brought people to hide underground will also turn that bunker into a tomb.

The desire to escape and disengage, the renunciation of building social communities “on the surface”, powers another market area now. And this is done sacrificing the survival of mankind, bringing problems such as the violent gentrification that befell the Kiwis living in New Zealand near Queenstown, and visibly neglecting others, such as the climate catastrophe and its consequent mass migrations.

In the chaos, that “wacky” Kanye West is perhaps not wrong to appeal to Wabi-Sabi, which for centuries has taught acceptance of silence, imperfection and the impermanence of the individual’s life.

Opening image: Image courtesy of ABIBOO Studio from the DBX project. A private, self-sufficient bunker inspired by life in space. 

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