THE NATIONWIDE MCMODERN INVASION HAS BEGUN, AND THE UPPER KIRBY AND GREENWAY PLAZA AREA IS ITS GROUND ZERO “The typical McMansion follows a formula: It’s large, cheaply constructed, and architecturally sloppy,” writes Kate Wagner on Curbed. “Until around 2007, McMansions mostly borrowed the forms of traditional architecture, producing vinyl Georgian estates and foam Mediterranean villas.” But Wagner, who regularly dissects and ridicules the housing type on her McMansion Hell Tumblr page, notes that McMansion purveyors of late have increasingly begun borrowing, distorting, misunderstanding, and enlarging aspects of a newer type of home. “We are witnessing the birth and the proliferation of modernist McMansions: McModerns,” she writes. Where can we find these sleek new specimens? “In cities, McModerns are frequently constructed in rapidly gentrifying areas, such as the Greenway/Upper Kirby neighborhood in Houston, where $1 million, five-to-10-bedroom, builder-designed McModerns have been increasingly sprinkled among houses selling for $200,000 to $700,000: an earmark of speculation based on the increasing land values brought by rabid development.” [Curbed] Photo of 3003 Ferndale St.: HAR
Note: Story updated below.
A couple of days after a lawyer from Zillow sent McMansion Hell author Kate Wagner a letter demanding she take down from her website all the images of homes she’d ever found on the real estate listings aggregator site and artfully marked up with satirical commentary, an attorney from the Electronic Freedom Foundation has responded with an artful letter on Wagner’s behalf and a blog post of its own. (And it’s perhaps worth noting that in creating the delightful graphic above to illustrate its no-can-do response to Zillow’s threat to sue, the foundation itself chose to work from a Creative Commons image.) Writes EFF’s Daniel Nazer: “Using humor and parody, Wagner tries to illustrate the architectural horror of modern McMansions. . . . Importantly, Zillow does not own, and cannot assert, the copyright in these photos. But even if it could, McMansion Hell’s annotation of photographs for the purpose of criticism and commentary is a classic example of fair use.”
So what’s the fallout?
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Fair McMansion Use
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CONFESSIONS OF A RECOVERING MCMANSION JUNKIE “There’s a mania that afflicts home-buyers. I was under the influence once. We had the money and the growing family and longed for a sort of rock to pin our hopes to . . . (Granted, this was years ago, before the Tuscan Incursion.) The affliction is a cross between beer goggles and the Stockholm Syndrome: the falling-in-love with some ideal future life promised by a house and the suspension of critical thinking. Developers know how to woo with bike paths and landscaping — builders do it with niches, shutters and mantels, etc. The buyer really, desperately wants to see their stuff and their kiddos in that scene.” [movocelot, commenting on And Now, an Illustrated Series of Detailed Rants About McMansions]
What puts the Mc- in McMansion? McMansion Hell hit the Internets recently hoping to answer that question, bringing along slews of illustrative photo examples covered with detailed (if at times bitingly sarcastic) annotations. The author notes that not all large post-1980 houses are McMansions — that’s a matter of factors like these. And not recognizing one isn’t necessarily a matter of having bad taste — it’s a matter of familiarity with basic design principles, which the site attempts to provide.
Starting with a McMansions 101 introductory primer on basic layouts and proportions, most of the site’s posts so far take on specific design aspects (last week’s called out useless and disproportionate column deployment). Other posts take readers on a Zillow-photo walkthrough of a single home — this afternoon’s critique dives into a Houston-area house (shown above), text block by aggravated text block:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THOSE MCMANSIONS ARE GIVING TIMBERGROVE A NEEDED LIFT “Those pics for the Shirkmere listing show some example samples of McMansions in Timbergrove and the floors appear to all be raised 3-4 feet above grade. I like those simple 50s homes but, considering the flood potential, the raised McMansions are an upgrade of the neighborhood in more ways than 1.” [Dana-X, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Trulley, Madly, Deeply]
PALLADIAN MCMANSIONS AND YOU “The next time you feel the urge to lament how a freshly built stucco McMansion has replaced two cozy bungalows down the street, consider this: You may be at the intersection where old meets new and bearing witness, as generations past have, to a longstanding battle of urban and rural ideals. At least, that’s one part of the equation, according to University of Houston assistant professor Michelangelo Sabatino. . . . ‘In the suburbs, homeowners aspire to show off verdant lawns as symbols of success. The lawn recalls the agrarian past of the country,’ he says. ‘And yet, if one looks closer, it is more of a simulacrum – just a representation – of this past. Few really want to actually grow vegetables, and few, especially in Texas, seem to want to hang out on the lawn or on porches, preferring the cool of their air-conditioned homes.’ . . . The paradox of today’s McMansion craze – many of them inspired by Palladian motifs, such as symmetry and classical ornament on their facades – is that they don’t reflect the values that originally inspired them, Sabatino says. In a way, this underscores that history is never stagnant, he says, yet it also illustrates that the builders and buyers aren’t really aware of what values inspired [Andrea] Palladio’s architecture. ‘In some cases, Palladio’s legacy has been reduced to mere “style.”’” [dBusiness News]