There’s a New Menace Stalking Suburbia. Meet the McBasement.
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There’s a New Menace Stalking Suburbia. Meet the McBasement.

Limits on above-ground mansion sizes lead to mammoth grottos with tennis courts and whiskey-tasting rooms. Beverly Hills pushes back: `Violence against the land’

Wed, Oct 12, 2022 8:45amGrey Clock 4 min

When Sterling McDavid’s parents bought a roughly 9,000-square-foot home on Aspen’s Red Mountain, the 33-year-old interior designer directed the architect and contractors to start digging.

Limited by zoning above ground, Ms. McDavid, who led the renovation, envisioned an expansive basement with a world-class gym, guest suites and hotel-caliber spa for her parents, former college track star Stacie McDavid, and David McDavid, a former owner of the Dallas Mavericks and car-dealership mogul.

“I love a basement,” says Ms. McDavid, who ultimately blew out her parents’ basement to more than double its size. “When you walk into a home, if all the magic is just within the first few steps, that’s no fun.”

Wealthy Londoners have long built basements reaching two, three, and even four stories below ground. Now, there is a cellars market in the U.S. among property owners facing restrictions on mansion sizes above ground. The McBasements of today have bars, bowling alleys, pools, climbing walls and whiskey-tasting rooms. To sidestep subterranean gloom, builders usher in natural light via grand staircases or skylights cut into the ground above.

“Down is the new up,” says Randy Correll, partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, who designs basements with luxe finishes. “Twenty years ago, basements were the ‘B word.’”

Ms. McDavid says the excavation for her parent’s 4,000-square-foot Aspen basement added about a year to the three-year renovation, since workers dug underneath the home and into a mountainside. The resulting basement has guest suites, a gym with white oak floors, a 12-person hot tub and an “absurdly large” steam room, she says. “You feel like you’re in a luxury cave.”

She says the prior owner, by contrast, had done little to maximise the basement, which was “absolutely heinous.” (“It had wine storage, not to be confused with a wine cellar,” she says.)

Still, some towns have cracked down on the chic crypts, worried about unsettling topography and having truckloads of excavated dirt roll through residential streets. In Aspen, a resident sued the city for permitting a neighbour’s two-story basement, alleging excessive noise and dust. Aspen now limits basements to one level. And the Beverly Hills Planning Commission is now mired in a down-and-dirty basement brouhaha.

The island of Nantucket, just 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, limits home sizes with more than 20 zoning districts. Some areas allow a footprint covering only 2 percent of the property.

One solution? Go low. “The possibilities are endless,” says Stephen Cheney, owner of Cheney Custom Homes, who is currently constructing a roughly 16,000-square-foot home and guest home with a 5,600-square-foot “bunker” below for a bowling alley, 3-D golf simulator, and spa.

Basements can dwarf homes above. Designer Andrew Kotchen, a principal at Workshop/APD, is working on a 5,000-square-foot Nantucket abode that will have a 10,000-square-foot basement with a basketball court, garage, bedrooms and a wellness space.

In beach towns, architects are deploying extreme waterproofing measures.

For the 10,000-square-foot grotto, workers are using the same waterproofing technique as Boston’s Big Dig highway project, Mr. Kotchen says. An emergency pump system and thick concrete slab underneath will prevent the foundation from floating up should water levels rise, he says.

In Aspen, a 5,000-square-foot basement at the confluence of two rivers required “dewatering,” says Ryan Walterscheid, a partner at architecture firm Forum Phi. Workers drilled wells around the site and pumped out almost a billion gallons of water before pouring the foundation. (The water was poured back into the river.)

Architect Charles Cunniffe, who designed the McDavids’ remodel, also did a basement with a tennis court. “You can’t hit big lob shots,” he says, “but you can play a decent game of tennis.”

Interior designer Bryan Graybill says a large basement at his home in East Hampton, N.Y., was the only way to fit all the amenities he and his husband desired in their 4,100-square-foot house. For frequent hosting, their 1,800-square-foot lower level has full guest quarters, a laundry room with three sets of washers and dryers, and a catering pantry with extra stemware and service for 48. “It’s like an instant party,” he says.

Beverly Hills residents are also keeping up, and down, with the neighbours.

Architect Paul McClean crafted a house there with 7,400 square feet above ground and another 12,000 below, including a 3,000-square-foot garage. The firm also designed developer Nile Niami’s roughly 105,000-square-foot Los Angeles megamansion “The One,” where about half the home sat below grade. First listed at $500 million, the property fetched $126 million at auction this year. (A relative bargain-basement deal.)

Beverly Hills leaders passed ordinances in recent years in response to what Craig Corman, former Planning Commission chairman, called a “pernicious” trend of mammoth dwellings with wedding cake-style retaining walls and massive basements. “They can be quite offensive,” he said during a recent commission meeting. Now, property owners in the Hillside area cannot remove more than 3,000 cubic yards of earth without special permits.

This has hampered real-estate investor David Taban, who is trying to build a 23,144-square-foot house, of which 9,829 would be a basement. (He wants to dig down to appease neighbours who worried his home would hurt their views.) But getting a basement of that size required removing 5,346 cubic yards of dirt, which one city planner said would amount to 594 truckloads.

“Violence to the land,” Planning Commission Chair Myra Demeter dubbed it at an August meeting.

Asked to revise, Mr. Taban’s team is set to return to the commission Thursday. As of late September, plans called for removing just 3,276 cubic yards of soil, according to attorney Ronald Richards, a representative for Mr. Taban, who also argued the project should be permitted since the proposal predates some restrictive rules.

“It’s not even that crazy of a project in our mind,” says Russell Linch, another Taban representative.

Spec developers know the more liveable space, the bigger the price tag, says Brett Loehmann, a project manager at McClean Design. “If you don’t have great amenities, you’re not going to be the coolest person on the block.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).


People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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