But what if the McMansion could be put in the service of urbanism instead? In his new book Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction (Park Books, $49), the architect Keith Krumwiede, who teaches at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, envisions an alternative reality in which McMansions are used as building blocks to create small communities not unlike medieval villages or 19th-century communes. These “estates,” aggregated from real house plans used by big homebuilders such as Toll Brothers and Pulte, are set in Krumwiede’s fictional domain of Freedomland.
Across the Atlas’s richly colored pages, Krumwiede offers dozens of variations on the idea of the tract home as a module in a much larger dwelling. His estates have up to 200 bedrooms and 100 bathrooms each. Some are cruciform or X-shaped in plan; in others, the McMansions pinwheel around a fountain, lock together in tight Tetris-esque combinations, or link up delicately like daisy chains.
And the author discusses some of his thinking:
I think we do ourselves a disservice as architects dismissing all of these houses out of hand as aesthetically impoverished dreck, because they are really smart plans. That’s not to say that they have architectural values in a traditional sense. What I think they do effectively is they are able to deliver on the idea of every house being that individual’s palace…
I’ve had certain architects affiliated with the New Urbanist movement who’d say, “These individual estates are really great. You need to find a way to build these.” There are other friends, who see themselves more as avant-gardists, who are like, “How can you be mucking around with these shitty houses?” They see it as selling out.
These plans may make use of the physical structures known as McMansions but they certainly play with one of the object’s central features: a private space separate from neighbors. This is both a feature and a big: homeowners seem to want to get away from neighbors and society (with lots of interior space, sometimes a sizable lawn, and architectural features that impress but don’t necessarily expose the inside activity to outsiders) while critics suggest these home privilege private lives over robust community interaction (with sizable and prominent garages, plenty of interior space, and often imposing exteriors that discourage neighborly activity). Would a McMansion intentionally created as part of an enclave cease to be a McMansion?
Another idea: imagine you could move existing McMansions to create these new enclaves. It would be difficult to move large structures like these but then new McMansions don’t have to be constructed and it frees up other locations for new uses.