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Design

‘McMansion Hell’ Reminds Us That Generic, Sprawling Houses Are Guilty Of More Than Bad Taste

by Penn Collins

June 7, 2017

There’s no formal definition for a McMansion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spot one when you see it. The term, around for decades, but proliferated more recently, refers to the type of overbuilt, often suburban, homes that believe that size trumps all else.

While their ability to get under the skin of neighbors or laypeople varies, there’s a consensus among design professionals that, well, McMansions suck.

That reaction among the architecturally literate comes as no surprise, but as Kate Wagner spells out beautifully her equal parts hilarious and equal parts insightful blog “McMansion Hell,” the widespread objections aren’t just over aesthetics.

As you’ll see in a section of “McMansion Hell” entitled McMansions 101, Wagner, a Ph.D. candidate of architectural acoustics at Johns Hopkins, is anything but arbitrary in her takedown of the overbuilt testaments to decadence over taste.

“McMansion Hell”

After 15 minutes of browsing, you’ll not only learn how a house devolves into McMansion territory, but also why the phenomenon is troubling on much more than an aesthetic level.

Speaking in a revealing interview with The Hairpin, Wagner states that her anger at the McMansion convention isn’t some conceptual approach she’s taking for her blog. She really objects to the ideology on a visceral level, stating:

First of all, I hate the wastefulness of it. You don’t need that much space. These houses are just so horribly constructed; they’re huge energy sinks, part of a completely unsustainable lifestyle, which is also driven by the car and the isolation of suburbia and exurbia.

Then, the pretentiousness of it. It’s appropriating architectural languages of the past, like certain types of columns, in order to denote an appeal to authority, architecturally. By putting columns on your front door, it’s saying you have the same amount of power as an institution like a bank or government office. We’ve codified certain symbols as symbols of wealth. But that started a long time ago, and it’s a whole other can of worms. Now, though, the cheapness of the material—there’s an irony there for me. It’s making this bold statement of wealth, but you can’t afford to do it with good stuff.

As thoughtful as these intellectual and persuasive arguments are, don’t let them fool you—“McMansion Hell” is fun to read. Not only is her wit apparent in posts like the one below, but they’re enjoyable because they manage to codify why so many people dislike these prevalent shrines to nouveau tastelessness.

“McMansion Hell”

The site should be good fun for everyone—except McMansion owners who, let’s face it, probably wish Wagner had written “McMansion Hell” before they realized everyone was mocking their “McMansion Nub.” 

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‘McMansion Hell’ Reminds Us That Generic, Sprawling Houses Are Guilty Of More Than Bad Taste