The McMansions reflect a “More Is More” American culture

Where can you see a castle turret, barn doors and Greek columns in one structure? America, of course. Many suburban neighborhoods have them – showy mansions with an abundance of misplaced windows, bland color schemes, and an inconsistent mix of architectural styles. They seem to materialize out of nowhere and loom large over the surrounding quaint little houses. Besides people who love these houses, many Americans can probably agree: McMansions are ugly.

Taking its name from the infamous fast food chain McDonald’s, these homes are also mass-produced, not long-lasting but quickly acquired, and distinctly American. Like an indulgent Big Mac, the McMansions are huge. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2020 the average home size in the United States was around 2,200 square feet. The McMansions range from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, if not bigger.

These works appeared in the 1980s, revisiting the dated style born of the mass migration from the suburbs in the mid-1940s and 1950s. This trend continued into the 1990s and early 2000s, reflecting a culture that associated success with material value. before the dreadful 2008 recession, maximalism in architecture reigned. From grand halls with high cathedral ceilings to a Versailles-style spiral staircase, everything was in style. The once-fashionable modest cottages with “Home Sweet Home” tapestries adorning the walls seemed light years away.

Although these opulent mansions are grand, McMansions are distinct from mansions. The main difference is that these structures present themselves as something they are not. Like a quarter pound from McDonald’s, they may look decadent, but they’re really not that great. The whimsical architectural features of historic mansions like the Wilderstein Mansion in upstate New York are not present in garish new constructions. Instead of complex designs, these structures contain a hodgepodge of styles, lack visual cohesion, and include shoddy materials.

Like Jackie Craven said, the location indicates that these are trophy houses intended for display. The McMansions are not stone castles nestled in hills or craftsman getaways on a rocky cliff by the ocean. They exist in the same realm as Hobby Lobby, perfectly styled monospaces and topiary. The McMansions reside in pure suburbia – and the use of Tuscan-style eaves won’t fool anyone into thinking otherwise. They are a status indicator through high mortgages, reflecting wealth inequality. As a result, some claim to be American royalty while others struggle with food insecurity on a daily basis.

The McMansions also ignore the need for environmental sustainability and require an excessive amount of energy and supplies. the Huffington Post even said that the only way to make a McMansion more environmentally friendly is to tear it down and build two standard houses in its place. Others, like the writer Galina Tachieva, believe the answer is to turn these large structures into multi-unit apartments. This would help diversify once closed communities by integrating people who previously could not afford to live in the suburbs.

The normalization of exorbitant land consumption and overexploitation of resources is telling, as the rich to middle-rich are allowed to use and abuse without consequence. With the risk of climate change and affordable housing becoming increasingly scarce, shouldn’t there be a limit to what you can build? In 2019, Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien proposed and successfully passed a bill that banned these maximalist mansions.

One begins to wonder how something so garish became so simplistic. To the untrained eye, most McMansions look a lot alike: faux stone, built-in garages, and an abundance of massive, misplaced windows. The blog Hell McMansion is famous for exposing the absurdities of these inelegant structures. With commentary from Kate Wagnerthe posts are brilliant comic roasts of the garish houses of the real estate advertisements.

The blog is tongue-in-cheek and approachable, stating things like “ahoy mateys” in reference to a porthole-shaped window and “can we just, like, ctrl-x this part of the house” about a botched wall. Beyond its humorous format, Wagner’s work is powerful and critical of an American mentality that equates overconsumption with success. His chosen houses are sticky because they try to look sophisticated and worldly.

Structures are often made with cheap materials, but still reflect a cultural love of wealth and status. Wagner said in an imaintenance with Ariana Rebolini that she hates “the pretense of [McMansions]. It is to appropriate architectural languages ​​from the past, such as certain types of columns, to denote a call to authority, architecturally. By putting columns on your front door, it means you have the same power as an institution like a bank or a government office. We have codified certain symbols as symbols of wealth.

The wealth-obsessed flamboyance of the McMansions is why their rooftops, for example, are so odd. Wagner told Business Insider that the McMansions are built upside down, making the roofs a hodgepodge of absurd lines that desperately try to match the showy interiors.

As Wagner often points out, the McMansions make people feel on purpose by dominating them. Through this, there is a strange conflict of purposes in the McMansions. Houses, after all, are meant to be for human habitation, but when they are so large, houses seem almost anti-human and demeaning.

As the Washington Post suggests, perhaps we hate the McMansions because they symbolize a late-stage capitalist American dream that may be financially transient, as evidenced by the 2008 recession. Business InternMcMansions are a dying breed, stating: “To cite one example, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the extra money buyers were expected to be willing to pay to own a McMansion dropped 84% from 2012 to 2016.”

But, as a result, McMansions across the country are being seized due to loss of wealth, leaving their grand halls spawning cobwebs and their topiary overgrown. Wagner explains in another interview that the McMansions are “too ostentatious to be considered folk architecture”, implying that they lack a distinct artistic identity.

When millions of these structures exist, where to categorize them in the sphere of American design? With their odd mix of cheap utilitarianism and unnecessary garish embellishments, they’re lacking and overabundant. As a result, McMansions’ style is a questionable reflection of American wealth as a whole, operating on a system both on shaky ground and indulging in opulence.


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