For those of you who haven’t heard of the site before, Kate Wagner (the creator) does an absolutely brilliant skewering of modern McMansion architecture, or lack thereof. She takes street view photos of McMansions from all over the country and marks up the photos with scathing commentary in true “what the hell were they thinking?” style.
Of course, it wasn’t long before news outlets picked up on the David and Goliath story and the news went viral. Ms. Wagner got legal representation and a few short days later Zillow ceased and desisted on their cease and desist. Crisis averted, right?
The good news is that our side may have won this battle, but the march of the McMansion continues unabated across our country. At least we’ll have sites like McMansion Hell to help us see how ludicrous the design of these faux houses are, but they are still popping up like one big Whack-a-Mole game.
McMansion an Architectural Style?
I’ve written about a lot of historic architectural styles on this blog over the years, but what do you do with a trend in architecture that is actually anti-style? I don’t think the McMansion is purposely designed poorly, I just think we’re seeing the result of uneducated or lazy people designing houses today.
The non-design of these houses is the architectural equivalent of pasting together magazine clippings of facial features to create the perfect man or woman. All these pieces have no connection to the whole and there is no through line to the design.
Yes, architects I am speaking to you! This is your job. Real architecture is not built for our time, but for all time. Who remembers the old adage “form follows function”? Well, in every architectural style of the last millennia, that has been the case up until this last generation it seems. We have been tearing down real houses, historic houses, beautiful houses to build faux mansions that even Barbie would be appalled to live in.
With faux balconies and blinds, windows that don’t open and dormers that lead nowhere and always a massive and prominent garage to proclaim how many cars we have. Our architecture speaks to who we are as a society. The early buildings in America were simple and utilitarian, fitting for the frontier land that it was at the time. As wealth increased in the colonies, the homes got larger and more ornate. They were built better and designed better because society had the means to do better work.
What Will Future Generations Think?
What does the McMansion say about who we are as a society today? Are we as fake as the homes we live in? Would we rather have the appearance of wealth than actual wealth? Do we care to leave something behind for our children and our children’s children or are we obsessed with living as extravagantly as we can for as long as we can until things come crashing down like the last recession?
We have the knowledge and technology today to build exponentially better homes than our forefathers did. We may have the tools, but it seems we don’t have the will, and it worries me what future generations will think of what we have left behind.
Every generation leaves their buildings behind on this earth for the next, and hopefully more future generations to critique. What will the consensus be of what we have left behind when there is no one here to explain why the balcony isn’t really a balcony and why the shutters don’t actually operate or fit the windows they were paired with?
I hope the McMansion will be seen for the folly it is and not who we truly are, but for that to happen, we have to stop indulging these architectural tantrums and start building like we mean it.
From a historic perspective, there is nothing that offend me more than when a stunning historic building is razed to the ground to clear the way for one of these monstrosities. Historic buildings that have stood the test of time and weathered the elements with grace deserve to continue their watch over our neighborhoods and not be replaced by the poser of the building community, the McMansion.
Be careful when you build a house of cards, because you’re just one gust away from showing your hand.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
9 thoughts on “A Special Spot in McMansion Hell”
People (more specifically, RICH people) who hate so-called “McMansions” hate them because they still believe in sumptuary laws, like the ones back in Tudor times. They want a strict divide between the classes and it offends them when the middle-class “act above their station”. It has nothing to do with looks or pretension (because let’s be honest, that’s the ENTIRE point of having a mansion of any kind), but because they don’t want the lower classes to live anything like them. You can deny it all you want, but that what it all boils down to.
So you think my disgust for bad design is based on me being a rich elitist? Wow! Thanks for the diagnosis doc.
Nope, sorry, but cannot agree with you on that one. Class warfare is a silly topic being taught in higher education today to attempt to alleviate the poor earnings of a useless degree. It is simply misdirection.
McMansions are usually not built in a solitary place, with acres of property around them and sometimes even completely fenced. That is RICH people! McMansions, on the other hand are built in clusters with very little room between the buildings. Blinds and drapes are required on almost all windows as it takes very little effort to see inside the houses next to them. The outside of McMansions are usually nothing more than streetside eye candy and bear no resemblance to what is inside. Almost all outside decoration is fake and has no actual purpose: 2nd or 3rd story porches that are 2 feet deep, doors that don’t open onto these porches, window shutters bolted to the walls, tiny windows in the roof with nothing behind them but painted wood. The list goes on. The purpose of a McMansion is to separate the fool from much of the money they think they have.
I like you Ken!
When I was a young architect, I did one of these for a “Street of Dreams”, freelance. It felt like a dirty, covert dope deal with the builder at the time. I luckily forgot about the project, and a year later I’m finally at the good architectural firm I had worked years to be at, and one of my associates found I had did one as my name showed up in the paper for their show. It almost destroyed my career – and it took me years to live it down and recover. There’s architecture, and there’s conspicuous consumption. Forgive those young architects, they’re new and hungry and know not what they do
I call these places “The Houses of the False Gables”. I do believe that every one of those false gables adds $100,000 to the cost of the house. And I have counted as many as twelve “gables” on some ostentatious cheese boxes!
I guess it’s not enough that we clear cut glorious stands of Western red cedar and Northern white cedar to build the beautiful Edwardian homes that were so prominent in the early 20th century. Now we are expected to neglect and turn our backs on those lovely, user-friendly places in favor of disproportionate crap made from petro chemicals. Where does the madness end?
Honestly, I go into panic mode if I have to drive to the suburbs. Please don’t invite me.
Can you help prevent a simliar city building monstrosity?
I wonder if these houses will even be around for the next generation to critique. Will the shoddy materials and workmanship hold up that long? Will anyone buy them? Will they be willing to invest the money or effort to maintain them? If lovely, well built older homes fall victim to neglect, how much more likely will it be that the same fate awaits McMansions, and much sooner?
This was only too funny after living in Denver and watching these monstrosities being built almost everywhere along the Front Range. Then, too, I watched a video on Infowars that had much the same thing to say about large commercial/government buildings: