Comparing teardown McMansions to “heirloom” homes

One way to argue against teardown McMansions is to compare them to “heirloom” or “heritage” homes:

THE North Shore Heritage Preservation Society says the North Shore’s municipalities need to tighten their rules around heritage homes or risk losing them to developers’ wrecking balls.

This, after the group has learned a heritage designated home in Edgemont Village has been demolished, only to have the lot listed for sale with plans for a five-bedroom, seven bathroom “McMansion” to occupy it…

Designed by noted local architect Fred Hollingsworth in 1950, the home at 2895 Newmarket Dr. was razed after the District of North Vancouver issued a demolition permit on July 3. Buildings that date back to the North Shore’s formative history or homes once lived in by important people have an intrinsic value worth protecting, the group argues, comparing the homes to family heirlooms.

“The heritage buildings we see around us are our link to our past and sweeping them away means we sweep away all evidence of where we come from,” said Peter Miller, society president. “In this particular case, we regret very much that the system permitted this to happen. It’s very sad.”…

“There is an emotional attachment that an old building has to the past. If you go up to a front door, which was there almost 100 years ago, and touch it, you can feel that people have been going in and out of that door for 100 years,” he said. “When you go up to a door that looks essentially the same but came from Rona, there’s none of that emotional connection to the past.”

This argument makes some sense: buildings and homes and the styles in which they were constructed help provide a sense of tradition and continuity with the past. Buildings are functional structures – humans need shelter – but they are also social by virtue of the social interactions and meanings attached to them. Using the term “heirloom” helps make this point by suggesting the houses are something emotionally laden that a community bequeaths to future generations.

But, at the same time, the article mentions more details about several of the older homes that have demolished. One home was a “post-modern home.” I assume this means something like a modernist home, more about straight lines and newer materials (steel, glass, concrete, etc.). Another one of the demolished homes was a 1910 home. Are a modernist home and a 1910 home of the same ilk? Other communities are facing issues of what to do with modernist homes as they may be old and automatically historic (just like McMansions might be in several decades) but they haven’t never really quite fit with more “normal” architectural styles. More broadly, what homes should count as historic?

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