McMansions don’t represent progressive home design

Here is a suggestion that McMansions are not in the best tradition of modern American architecture:


In the past American design was modern and the emerging architectural vernacular reflected that, from the Farnsworth to LA’s Case Study houses (such as the one pictured above) or to Eichler’s industrialisation of modernism, for the masses.

But now this has been replaced by a new version of the old, from McMansions to Pottery barn, Victorian design represents regression in the form of aspiration to a pre-industrial age, America’s current design prudery is a form of technological regression that is so pervasive, we should be very thankful for the brilliant exceptions such as Apple.

In this critique, the McMansion is simply recycled architecture, an example of our “design prudery.” I will grant that McMansions may borrow from older designs and may even do a poor job of combining multiple styles.

But, I think there could be a larger argument made here: Americans have been fairly resistant to modernist home designs. The functional and simple ranch may be the most modern home most Americans would consider. (Was there a historical point where home design really took a great leap forward or where it took a great leap back?) Thinking in Bourieu’s terms, are Americans more concerned with the functionality of homes rather than their aesthetic value?

This quick description of McMansions also leaves out another element: home design is also about status for homebuyers and residents. Older or established styles can confer a sense of permanency, history, and grandeur. Do Americans not like more modern home designs because it paints them in a negative light by suggesting they are elitist or too individualistic?

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