Comparing the mass-produced ranch to the mass-produced McMansion

I’ve recently seen several articles about the ranch house (I discussed Atomic Ranch magazine a few weeks ago) but this one, “Ranch housing style makes a comeback,” led me to thinking why the mass-produced ranch may be popular and the mass-produced McMansion is not. Here is a brief explanation from the article:

Cicaloni is not alone in her appreciation for the ranch. Though it will never be as popular as the ubiquitous Colonial here in New England, the ranch is making a return. The simple home is being embraced by young people attracted to the mid-century modern vibe; by aging boomers who no longer want to deal with stairs; and, as always, by those looking for an affordable home…

“Popular publications portrayed a confident and easygoing way of life that could be accessible to one and all; of particular interest was the casual California lifestyle, implying prosperity, glamour and optimism as embodied in a sunlit and breezy ranch house where indoors and outdoors blended effortlessly,” Betsy Friedberg of the Massachusetts Historical Commission wrote in a 2003 issue of Preservation Advocate. “In the 1950s, I think, [ranches] were considered fresh,” says Zimmerman. “They were built at the same time as Capes, which looked very traditional. If you were a person who was up to date and interested in the latest thing, then, yes, a ranch is the thing you would have chosen in 1952.”…

BUT EVENTUALLY, thanks to tract housing like in the infamous Levittowns, people didn’t see the charm anymore. The 1962 song “Little Boxes,” inspired by a drive through a postwar development in California, ridiculed the conformity: Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same. There’s a green one and a pink one, and a blue one and a yellow one. And they’re all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same…

But the other thing is that taste in homes, like fashion, is cyclical. “All building styles go through a period when they are unpopular,” says Zimmerman. “At one point, Victorian houses were thought of as white elephants and hard to heat and not set up for modern living and not in tune with the landscape. So, in the ’60s, we lost a lot of Victorians.” And so, the ranches often derided as “ranch burgers”?—?as in mass-produced by a fast-food chain?—?were replaced with homes that came to be known as “McMansions.’’

So it’s simply a matter that ranch houses are on an up-cycle? It is somewhat amusing to think that these simple houses could be an antidote to an era of supersizing house size and debt.

I’m sure some critics of suburban houses would argue that ranch homes and McMansions share several important characteristics. To start, they are associated with sprawl and tract subdivisions. McMansions may be an easy target today but there were plenty of critics of the Levittowns and similar subdivisions built after World War II. In this sense, the problem may not be with the homes themselves per se but rather with the way of life that promotes building mass-produced houses. Second, both ranches and McMansions are not prized for their design or architecture due to their mass-produced nature as well as their unpleasing aesthetics (though these differ: ranches are meant to be more simple while McMansions are meant to impress or be flashy).

It would be interesting to see figures about how quickly housing stock is replaced in the United States. For example, how many ranch houses were built and how quickly were they replaced? What can this tell us about how quickly McMansions might be replaced?

One thought on “Comparing the mass-produced ranch to the mass-produced McMansion

  1. Pingback: People can live in modernist glass houses…if they have 6 acres in the woods | Legally Sociable

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