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McMansions: The Latest Architecture and News

Imagining the Future of Suburbia, From “Freedomland” to “McMansion Hell”

This article was originally published on the blog of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the largest platform for contemporary architecture in North America. The blog invites designers, writers and other contributors to independently express their perspectives on the Biennial across a range of formats. The 2017 Biennial, entitled Make New History, will be free and open to the public between September 16, 2017 and January 6, 2018.

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Some works of architectural writing can be taken at face value as stark manifestos for a new aesthetic. Keith Krumwiede’s Atlas of Another America is, instead, a constantly unfurling satire that offers layers upon layers of artfully imagined social commentary. Like McMansion Hell, my own long-form satirical project, Krumwiede’s “architectural fiction" sends up American ideas about economics, politics, and culture by picking apart our outrageous suburban housing types. The project will be on display at the Chicago Architecture Biennial this fall, delivering a sardonic vision of American architecture that comes out of academic theory, but has a potent message for anyone who has spent time in suburbia.

99% Invisible Tackles McMansions and the Architecture of Evil

Architecture critic Kate Wagner has collaborated with 99% invisible on a podcast and a guest column delving into the tragedies of McMansions and the representation of evil through architecture in film, respectively.

In the podcast, Wagner, who is the author of McMansion Hell, is interviewed by Roman Mars and explains how the McMansion typology evolved, as well as how it became so despised, delving into topics of architectural history and representations of wealth.

Through her article as a guest columnist, Wagner explores the real-world buildings used in film to depict the evil corporation archetype in movies like Robocop, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.

Have We Reached the End of the McMansion Era?

The architectural world’s most hated structures may finally be meeting their demise. McMansions, the cheaply-built, faux-opulent mega-houses that litter many of the world’s suburban communities, were born in the 1980s and quickly became the most desirable living accommodation for middle and upper-middle class families. After a slight blip caused by the financial recession of 2008, McMansion popularity returned, with the median size of homes reaching a peak of 2,488 square feet just last year. But as seen in a new study conducted with data from real estate website Trulia, the economic benefit of purchasing one of these houses may now finally be falling.

Otherothers' "Offset House" Reveals the Architecture Hidden in Suburban Homes

In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and friends manage to obtain a visit with the great and powerful wizard, who appears to them as an enormous, grotesque head, surrounded by smoke and flames, with a booming voice and a hostile demeanor. But when Toto pulls back the curtain, the wizard’s true nature is revealed, and it is only then that he is able to help the gang get the help for which they journeyed many miles down the yellow brick road. In architecture today, suburban houses share many of the characteristics of the wizard’s illusion: large, stand-offish and intimidating. But what if there is a more benevolent architecture hidden behind the smoke and flames? This is the thesis of Australian firm Otherothers' Offset House, on display now at the Chicago Architecture Biennale.

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McMansions: The Ultimate Symbol of American Inequality

In this fascinating post for Salon, Thomas Frank holds nothing back on the topic of so-called "McMansions". Charting their history from the 1980s to today, he reveals the economics and government policies which made them possible, concluding that they are not just a symptom of the inequality in modern US society, but the very cause of it: "Everything we do seems designed to make this thing possible... This stupendous, staring banality is the final outcome for which we have sacrificed everything else." You can read the full article here.