McMansion or McModern?

The cover story of yesterday's free rag AM New York was about a "McMansion" under construction in the historic Broadway-Flushing/Murray Hill neighborhood of Queens. The short article pitted neighbors versus John Hsu, whose "dream house" is in the midst of construction, with photos accompanying the article showing a two-story, concrete frame next to its traditional neighbors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I always thought McMansions were more like this than what the article is portraying.

This looseness with wording makes me wonder just what is being attacked and why. Hsu's house appears to be within the scale of his neighbors, though his house looks to be closer to the sidewalk, making it appear bigger. So is this more an attack on a "McModern" design than a McMansion? Perhaps this is an attack on the general idea of non-contextual architecture, as the article indicates that preservationists are pushing for the neighborhood to gain landmark status, something that would severely restrict what people could build.

The article further mentions that Hsu's plans were approved by the Department of Buildings, so his house will most likely be completed as planned. I'm curious to see what the final design entails, but it is nowhere to be found or seen in the article, and this omission also makes me wonder if the neighbors are more upset by the Modernist idiom of the concrete frame than what will eventually cover it.


  1. John, I agree with you. I don't believe the problem here has to do with McMansions at all. I believe the residents are upset over whether or not this fits within the context of the neighborhood. Judging by it's concrete pour, this home will probably look nothing like the one next door.

    I've always thought of McMansions existing beyond the city limits. It has always appeared to me, the homes were built bigger to fit with the bigger lot that the suburbs provide... or... well, that was the argument for them. [ie, Barrington, IL referenced in a postscript by Robert McAnulty's America the Beautiful (Included with Suburban Maul, a book by Rick Valicenti).

  2. Personally, I have always thought of McMansions as the overly large cookie cutter mansions often found in under developed suburbs. I thought that the 'Mc' in McMansion referred to the assembly line features of the structure, while the 'Mansion' obviously refers to the size. If my assumptions are correct, it would seem that McMansion building is often the type we see in a development where all the houses use the same kit or assemblage of parts (nearly identical, but not quite) to fill their overly large properties.

    This is clearly a much different problem than above... This house is not a McMansion - it appears to be using a language and assembly completely different than what is found nearby.

    The word McMansion is generally considered a degrading term and in this case it seems as if the writers are using our prejudices against McMansions to influence readers into believing that new=bad. Its actually quite unfortunate.

  3. Look at the rediculous pediment and columns on the house next to it, why don't they complain about that? It's not like it's any amazing example of architecture.

  4. I design custom homes for a living at the moment, and I can appreciate neighbours' concerns over context. Having said that, my personal opinion is that this is just a simple choice of aesthetics. Who am I to say that a modern-looking house is better or worse than a revivalist house of some sort? No one has the authority to dictate aesthetics when it comes to residential design in a bland, homogeneous fabric.

    I say if you choose live in the monotony of a zone-to-shit residential "neighbourhood" where sensible living arrangements go to die, maybe you should stop fooling yourself into thinking that you have better architectural sensibilities just because you're choosing to go modern. Both houses in that picture are ridiculous, the only different being that the concrete frame will last a little longer.

    I could be wrong though, since judging by the last name of the owner, it could very well be that he's accustomed to living in concrete houses all his life in Asia, and wishes to continue that in North America. In which case there really is no difference in mentality.

  5. Yes, this situation boils down to arguments over aesthetics, though I agree with Michelle that the paper is using the negative connotations of the term McMansion in the favor of the neighbors. It might also be the case that terminology is lacking for this sort of situation, and the writer is falling back on what's common in today's mass-media parlance.

    These notions of aesthetics aren't enough to stop this house from being completed (though Hsu might have quite a difficult time living there if the tide never changes), but this won't be the case in the future if the area becomes a historical district. Speaking of historical districts, while I'm not familiar with how it works in NYC yet, I could swear that this house is in the Greenwich district (PDF link), though it looks like it might be just off the edge of the map.

  6. Didn't finish that last thought...

    If that town house can be built in the Village (big IF, as I'm not certain if it's in the landmark district or not), then can something like what's being done in Queens be done similarly if it were landmarked, with a few changes but the same overall character?

  7. I love McMansions. I live in a alrge split level mcmansion and it's very roomy and has an enormous backyard with a pool. It has 4 bedrooms an office/guest bedroom three bathrooms, a finished basement, and a large ceiling for the entrance. So why are people complaining?

  8. The sad fact is that its the young vs the old. The young is paying substantially more for the property (Mr. Hsu) while the old wants to keep "charm" in the neighborhood. I live in Austin, and face the same issue on McModern. We as the young, need to speak up and in favor of our property rights now- or we will be forced to compy with homogenized charm of the 50s. Yuck!

  9. Modernism, when done well, is beautiful. Ticky-tacky ersatz Colonial or Victorian, however, is an all-too common eyesore, popular among the rich and cowardly or tasteless. People tend to associate McMansions with cookie-cutter ersatz traditional aesthetics for good reason: the associations are true.

    The postmodern political posturing that deems aesthetics the handmaiden of anti-progressive politics doesn't even apply here; certainly, the lot of the poor isn't in any way improved because McMansions and the postmodern shopping centers that spring up around them are pedestrian yet hideous.

    There is a special contempt in my heart for those who would buy beautiful Modernist houses only to tear them down to make way for yet another ticky-tacky, look-alike, taste-alike McMansion. I refer you to this article in Time magazine:,9171,1638456,00.html

    One can't get find a more apt symbol of homogeneity and conformity than the Ticky-Tacky McMansion. I dearly miss Modernism, and long to see Modernism revived. (More affordable housing for the poor would be nice, too.)


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