LA McMansions prize interior space over backyards

New LA McMansions tend to have limited backyards for a variety of reasons:

“Comfortable” translates to a desire for bigger spaces, more amenities and higher-quality materials than in the past, notes John Closson, vice president and regional manager of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services...In many cases, the yard is not the family center it used to be, says architect Hsinming Fung, director of academic affairs at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. “What a family would do together for entertainment value is no longer in the backyard or the frontyard,” Fung says. “Technology has completely changed the way we use space. They need the indoor space because they use it much more.”…

A simple — some say brutal — development equation is at work today: More square footage equals greater return on investment. “Obviously, the price of land continues to climb in Los Angeles,” architect Ron Radziner of Marmol Radziner says. “Even if the client doesn’t necessarily want a bigger house, they feel they need to have it as an investment to have it make sense.”…

One point generally acknowledged is that many people today do not want the expense and hassle of a big yard. “It’s not practical to have a big lawn these days,” Tighe says. “People are rethinking that, rightfully so.” But they do still want something of a yard, just not the way we think of it.

One complaint about teardown McMansions is they are built close to the lot lines, dwarfing other homes or open spaces. At the same time, I’m not sure about the concern for backyards. These spaces have also tended to be private spaces, even if they are outdoors. Many yards have fences and landscaping intended to keep others out of sight. Backyards are also a symbol of sprawl: every housing unit has its own outdoor space.

A stronger public argument might be made for front yards. As New Urbanists and others argue, these are important for joining the street and sidewalk with the private home. This is why many architects emphasize front porches – they can provide some of the same features of the backyard deck but do so in sight of the public, encouraging social life and presenting a more lively and green streetscape.

It will be interesting to see if arguments/discussions about McMansion regulations in Los Angeles include guidelines about backyards.

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