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Thread: The McMansion

  1. #1
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    The McMansion

    Wikipedia has a quite extensive article on the McMansion. I think the author summed things up pretty well without resorting to name calling. The bit about false multipane windows really got my attention since I was noticing that very thing in one of the training rooms at work and thinking who in the world would buy a large window and have a grid pasted on it to try to make it look like a multipane window.

    I have to wonder, how long will most of these McMansions will last. It all appears that money is spent more on creating an impression of a grand house instead of creating the actual thing.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  2. #2
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I never really knew what a McMansion was until I moved to Ontario for University - I hadn't really seen anything in BC that I would consider a McMansion. Mansion, yes, McMansion... meh, not so much.

    As for how long they will last, I've no idea. They are very strange. I saw one in Brampton that had been built right across the street from a large, and still developing, industrial park. Puzzling to say the least. The place was very gaudy, had stone faces everywhere, a stone wall, a Hummer H2 (eugh), a swingset on the front lawn (wtf?) and many other indications of NEW, foolish money. The design wasn't exactly thrilling, either.

    edit: Funny sig, by the way. I'd never thought of it that way but it certainly can hold true in many cases.

  3. #3

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    Well. These things go in cycles. Gigantic Victorian mansions covered in gimcrack ornament were replaced by "simple" bungalows and the Prairie Style homes. As we will probably be entering an era of austerity the McMansion trend will probably gfade away this time, too.

    Not that I would deny that the availability of cheap labor and good real materials didn't make the Victorian "McMansions" much better. Plus, Victorian architects still had ties to goo traditions which we lost in the 20th century Thus, today's poorly detailed, aweful and out-of-proportion homes. A walk through the Oakland Hills firestorm area* sure makes you realize how little taste people have today Just give me size and mass, darn it!

    *The 89 firestorm wiped out over 3,000 homes in 1989. Generous insurance payments, minimal planning regulations, and the era's preference for size over quality has created a truly bizarre and fascinating cityscape.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    BKM: The ones building those fake victorian mansions were not the same as who were building the bungalows. The bungalows were built by decidedly middle-class people: union workers, government employees, etc. Who were taking advantage of the cheap land accessable to people with automobiles.

    The McMansions are probably, for the most part, owned by the sorts of people who were buying the bottom-end victorians: wealthy wage earners.

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    Member Nor Cal Planner Girl's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    BKM: The ones building those fake victorian mansions were not the same as who were building the bungalows. The bungalows were built by decidedly middle-class people: union workers, government employees, etc. Who were taking advantage of the cheap land accessable to people with automobiles.

    The McMansions are probably, for the most part, owned by the sorts of people who were buying the bottom-end victorians: wealthy wage earners.
    I live in a bungalow! - And, I deal with LOTS of 'McMansion-ites'- such a drag

  6. #6
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Housing fads last until the next fad comes along. The people who support the fads have lots of money now, but usually first generation money.

    When the next housing fad comes along, the first generation money folks will buy into that fad, and there won't be a lot of folks with money who want the McM;s. But the McM's have huge amount of room and can be broken up into multi family dwellings. The McM's with poor locations will be the first to go. The McM's with excellent location will survive based on location - and will be remodeled or torn down and rebuilt to resemble the next fad.

  7. #7
    Thanks for the great posting. I didn't realize that McM's could be defined to such a specific level of detail, but they seem to have gotten the definition down to a T. I had to scratch my head at the attached article, though,

    "Not everyone wants a McMansion":

    The O’Daniels ended up buying a house in a Chester Township development, called The Hedgerows, of New England colonial replicas. They said the 4,500-square feet of living space, minus the finished basement, was plenty for their family of three. They prefer the warmth of cedar shake siding to brick facades. They prefer a cozy one-story entrance to a cavernous two-story foyer. They said they paid the same price for less space but more character.

    ????? This is the alternative????

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    Interesting article. I grew up in a custom designed McMansion, though it was fairly well built, considering my Dad ran a mechanical contracting company and his best friend was the builder. It was also in a pretty large lot, much of which was cleared but we still managed to be surrounded by a sea of forest. The description of the design is pretty dead on, from the functional garage entrance into the mud room (which actually could be, and was, accessed from an outside patio) to the large ornamental "quiet" rooms with huge windows and cathedreal ceilings. Also included was a master bedroom suite on entrance level, an ornamental entrance with a two story foyer, and genuis that my Dad was, a completely pointless turret in the middle of the stair case. Hey, at least it looked distinctive... We also had a more "homey" family room/kitchen area, which was pretty much the only area of the house (other than the bedrooms) that was actually lived in daily. The rest was either for show, or special occasions.

    Though there were signifigant drawbacks to living in one of these, it wasn't really that bad. Our house was in an especially nice rural cul de sac though, so I imagine that made a difference. We even had underground powerlines! And I hate to think of the energy spent to heat the thing...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    edit: Funny sig, by the way. I'd never thought of it that way but it certainly can hold true in many cases.
    Thanks, I saw it on a girl's shirt and it made me laugh. Of course now that I'm changing it, everyone who didn't notice the old one will be scratching their heads.

    To Wulf's comment, your view is similar to one Jane Jacobs was espousing in an interview with Kunstler. She said basically Victorian homes were all the rage and then pretty suddenly no one wanted them. It wasn't due to anything wrong with Victorians, it was just that people were bored.

    I have to wonder if that isn't what created the market for McMansion and if that won't be tempered by a similar boredom with suburban life. This urban revival we are seeing the start of now has to be coming from somewhere more than just an annoyance at traffic. McMansions are certainly possible in an urban setting but the resistence to them is growing in cities who want to preserve the character of their neighborhoods. I know Atlanta is passing laws regulating the size of houses placed in existing neighborhoods to prevent wholesale bullbozing of existing housing stock to be replaced with huge homes (McMansion or not). It will be interesting because like sharks smelling blood from an injured seal, the suburban developers are starting to see the intown demand and want a piece of the action. Cities are going to have to be careful to have zoning in place to prevent the suburbification of the city from happening because the developers aren't going to just suddenly decide to build someone completely different unless they have to. Of couse one hopes that those moving in town would reject intown McMansions in favor of more community oriented homes but most people want to be able to have their cake and eat it too.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    BKM: The ones building those fake victorian mansions were not the same as who were building the bungalows. The bungalows were built by decidedly middle-class people: union workers, government employees, etc. Who were taking advantage of the cheap land accessable to people with automobiles.

    The McMansions are probably, for the most part, owned by the sorts of people who were buying the bottom-end victorians: wealthy wage earners.
    I didnt'e mean that simple bungalows were being built for the wealthy elite. Just that there was indeed a change in taste after the turn of the century. The bungalows were built for the middle class, of course. But, the British Arts and crafts movement and Frank Lloyd Wright certainly built for an elite. The Gamble House, while certainly grandiose, was different than a turreted Victorian wedding cake.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally posted by Follow the $$
    Thanks for the great posting. I didn't realize that McM's could be defined to such a specific level of detail, but they seem to have gotten the definition down to a T. I had to scratch my head at the attached article, though,

    "Not everyone wants a McMansion":

    The O’Daniels ended up buying a house in a Chester Township development, called The Hedgerows, of New England colonial replicas. They said the 4,500-square feet of living space, minus the finished basement, was plenty for their family of three. They prefer the warmth of cedar shake siding to brick facades. They prefer a cozy one-story entrance to a cavernous two-story foyer. They said they paid the same price for less space but more character.

    ????? This is the alternative????
    Of course. 4,500 square feet out in the exurbs is certainly a major sacrifice for the upwardly mobile family ("The Hedgerows." Gag me with a spoon)

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    Quote Originally posted by Follow the $$
    They said the 4,500-square feet of living space, minus the finished basement, was plenty for their family of three.
    Classic. Who knows how many bedrooms a 4,500ft2 house would have here. A 2,000ft2 house here is a five bedder. A 3 bedroomed house would range from about 800ft2 to 1300ft2, depending on things like dining rooms etc.

  13. #13
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by noj
    Classic. Who knows how many bedrooms a 4,500ft2 house would have here. A 2,000ft2 house here is a five bedder. A 3 bedroomed house would range from about 800ft2 to 1300ft2, depending on things like dining rooms etc.
    And to build off your comment, I can't understand why a household of 3 thinks 4,500 sqft is just fine. That's gigantic.

    The houses that my wife and I are looking at are generally 1500 sqft bungalows with full unfinished basements, which will be enough because we intend on only having 2 kids.

    I just think dumping that much money into a gigant house where only half of it is ever used.

    I say buy a smaller house, and then use the balance to buy a nice vacation property.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Follow the $$
    They said the 4,500-square feet of living space, minus the finished basement, was plenty for their family of three.
    oh. my. lord. (and lady)

  15. #15

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    At the risk of post-padding, I say again

    "THE HEDGEROWS"

    Gurgle.

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Which bits do you not like?

    IO've seen some gad-awful McMansions around the world (if you think the US is bad, you should see what some people build in europe......aiiighhh!).

    That said, some of the picutres in the Wikipedia article are not so bad, really.What I don't like: the jumble of mismatched rooflines, the disporportionate roofs, the propensity for very depressing (low maintenance) colors and finishes, the clearly cartonish cheapness and tawdriness of it all, the bad urban planning around them

    I do like: shutters (IF they actually work), brick walls (REAL brick, not a theme curtain), ample halways, generally any genuine reference to the proportions and aesthetic appeal of traditional European vernacualr architecture.

    One idiotic coment in the artcile berated McMansions for not being in 'American' styles. Uh? The only purely American style is arguably the long hosue and the Teepee......
    MAYBE adobe (REAL adobe that washes away in a rainstorm, not conrete looking liek adobe)...riiight

  17. #17
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    I
    One idiotic coment in the artcile berated McMansions for not being in 'American' styles. Uh? The only purely American style is arguably the long hosue and the Teepee......
    MAYBE adobe (REAL adobe that washes away in a rainstorm, not conrete looking liek adobe)...riiight
    Yeah, because the balloon frame was invented in Manchester...

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    Quote Originally posted by Luca

    generally any genuine reference to the proportions and aesthetic appeal of traditional European vernacualr architecture.

    One idiotic coment in the artcile berated McMansions for not being in 'American' styles. Uh? The only purely American style is arguably the long hosue and the Teepee......
    MAYBE adobe (REAL adobe that washes away in a rainstorm, not conrete looking liek adobe)...riiight
    There are no more "local" styles any more in today's internationalized world.

    What I prefer from a neighborhood aesthetics standpoint is the FIRST wave of traditional mock-ups, taken because American servicemen saw the real thing during World War I. (The storybook/period revival era) during the 1920s. There were big houses back then, too, but there seem to be more understanding of proportion and scale and detailing.

    Maybe the answer is psychological/ upbringing: If you grow up in a bleak 1960s strip mall paradise, how can you absorb any sense of good design? People do buy these houses and think they are simply fabulous. And, it's not ALL a matter of personal taste (I can admire/enjoy well-designed houses that feel "right" even if the style is not my own preference)

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Yeah, because the balloon frame was invented in Manchester...
    Wouldn't it be correct to say that the balloon frame is a construction technique rather than a building style? Through the 19th centruy, at least, they looked outwardly like European-inspired buildings (especially from Northern europe), did they not?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Maybe the answer is psychological/ upbringing: If you grow up in a bleak 1960s strip mall paradise, how can you absorb any sense of good design? People do buy these houses and think they are simply fabulous. And, it's not ALL a matter of personal taste (I can admire/enjoy well-designed houses that feel "right" even if the style is not my own preference)
    I agree completely. If you feed a child McDonalds from 2 to 16yrs of age, he may well not even LIKE real food. I think the main reason to preserve pre 1950s buildings at all costs is that, for one thing, they are a constant reminder that quality is possible.

    This is from someone who regularly embarasses his wife at parties by berating architects (when someone tells me they are an architect my stock response is: "oh dear; how embarassing for you"; some interesting conversations have followed).

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    It depends what you considered "European style" I suppose. There are many differences, but there are similarities also. Practically the first people off the boats invented their own style, the "cape cod," to deal with the harsh conditions in New England. In that it was a box with a roof, it was certainly "European inspired," but you'd not find anything like it in Europe.

    So much of 19th century (and earlier) architecture was dictated by what building materials lie in close proximity that all architecture was highly localized.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    It depends what you considered "European style" I suppose. There are many differences, but there are similarities also. Practically the first people off the boats invented their own style, the "cape cod," to deal with the harsh conditions in New England. In that it was a box with a roof, it was certainly "European inspired," but you'd not find anything like it in Europe.

    So much of 19th century (and earlier) architecture was dictated by what building materials lie in close proximity that all architecture was highly localized.
    Not to be contrary but 'Cape Cod' houses are very, very similar to Traditional fishermen's houses in much of Scandinavia. I guess what I mean is that while rebuilding Versailles in Texas may be a bit over the top, blasting abuilding because it has, say, a dormer window is, in my opinion, unncessary and petty.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Well, the dormer window isn't the defining feature of the Cape Cod (but that's what gets reproduced in all of the awful vinyl cape-code facsimiles in the sprawl), but rather, the way the wood-plank siding was installed.

    The Cape had problems with water runoff during storms, but they only had resources to build the buildings out of wood, so the lower parts would rot very quickly. They mitigated that problem by using more planks for the bottom part, so they were layered and only the outer planks would rot. Near the top, the planks were not layered as much to save wood. It's that particular gradient between wide planks at the top and narrow planks at the bottom that defines a Cape Cod.

    Also, if you're talking about aboriginal American architectural styles, I think the most distinctive would be the Inka imperial stone walls. Built without mortar and with organic edges:



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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Not to be contrary but 'Cape Cod' houses are very, very similar to Traditional fishermen's houses in much of Scandinavia. I guess what I mean is that while rebuilding Versailles in Texas may be a bit over the top, blasting abuilding because it has, say, a dormer window is, in my opinion, unncessary and petty.
    I remember reading a little piece of proaganda from an American Homebuilding Industry association newsletter comparing a modern Swedish SF dwelling and an American McMansion. They were, of course, extolling the virtues of the gigantic, multigabled monstrosities preferred by their builder-clients. Even back then, though, I found myself admiring the simple lines and clean design of the Swedish "inferior" product.

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Taste is so debased because most people know so little about architecture--like knowing food through McDonald's. If you want to bring people up to the level where their opinions are worthy of respect, you have to at least expose them to a spectrum of issues. Poetry is taught in every high school; why not architecture? Most people spend almost all their time in architecture and hardly ever read a poem.

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