McMansions – Welcome to the Architectural Steroid Era


You’ve probably heard the term and wasn’t quite sure exactly what it meant – McMansion.  Is it the official residence of Ronald McDonald?  Is it a house lived in by the Scottish-Irish aristocracy?

The term McMansion refers to the very large houses that have become more prevalent in our suburban and exurban landscape.  Like their fast food counterpart for which their name derives from they are designed within a vacuum of space and time.  Their design is not influenced by site or the owner, but rather the final product is a culmination of fashion and fad added onto a floor plan that lacks innovation and efficiencies.  For a better visual of the definition just think of a 1983 Plymouth Horizon hatchback with chrome 24″ spinner wheels on it.

And also like the fast food restaurant these homes are pre-made from a set menu where the customer simply selects a design.  There are builders that will allow you to select a different roof (would you like gables with that order?), maybe having a basement or not, and the option of two or three historically inspired styles for the exterior (typically a style that has absolutely no relevance to your location).  But theses options are usually the same for any suburban development.  What makes the McMansion so different is the size of the house, which is typically larger than 3,000 square feet but can run as high as five to six thousand.  With the average size of the American family now being 2.6 people this translates to over 1,000 square feet per person in these homes.

Like your typical mansion these McMansions were created for establishing an image for the owner that conveys a sense of accomplishment and prestige.  The exterior style exudes that the owner is wealthy and established.  The large entry foyer tells visitors that the people who reside here are proper and dignified.  It comes across like the house is a medium for the owner to convey an image more than anything else.

But there is a difference between the McMansion and your typical run-of-the-mill mansion – McMansions are developer built suburban homes on steroids.  At one time quality and reputation were attributes to any company, but nowadays developers (at least a very good portion of them) produce a product constructed by the lowest bidder with materials that provide the developer with the largest profit margin.  They really are no better than the typical suburban home, just more of it – more heating, more cooling, more stuff required to fill up the house, more property taxes, more maintenance, more to replace when it falls apart, and more attention and time taken away from the things you want to do with your life.  McMansions prove that some people dream about quantity more than quality.

The McMansion could only have been bred in this period of American history that has embraced overinflated lifestyles and values, where the quantity of life has been more important than the quality of life.


3 thoughts on “McMansions – Welcome to the Architectural Steroid Era

  1. Mile High Pixie

    And interestingly, McMansions use merely-okay or even substandard construction materials so that the builder/developer makes even more profit. Sure, your McMansion has granite countertops, but your exterior si superficially applied stone (lick-n-stick) and you don’t even have R-19 insulation in the walls. Good luck moderating the termperature.

    Not only do the building materials do the owner a disservice, but the aesthetic does as well. McMansions have become a bawdy version of International Style–they can be plopped down anywhere without regard to terrain, local building materials, or vernacular style. This often means that large, lovely windows end up on the south side of a site, which turns the oversized formal living and dining rooms into an oven. The few family members left end up spending their time eithe rin their rooms with the blinds drawn or in the basement “media room,” because Lord knows, we all need more “media.”

  2. anon

    That’s a cute picture. I assume they are going to paint the brick?
    I see a lot of old brick walls that get painted over and it infuriates me, but here it would be a big improvement!

  3. Eric Post author

    I honestly have no idea of what’s going on with that brick. Originally I had thought that maybe a good cleaning would reveal a uniform color, but the more I look at that image I’m becoming more convinced that two very different colored bricks are being used. I also hate paint on brick, although I’ve seen it successfully applied on a few occasions.

    And great points Mile High Pixie. It does appear that “International Style” has morphed into a societal acceptable monument to mediocrity. I’ve worked with developers in the past and I have to admit that there are a few very good ones who realize that their success is based on the clients’ satisfaction and not merely the bottom line.

    These homes are definitely an example of architecture turning its back towards the neighborhood and in essence don’t promote the ideal of community.


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