Kate "McMansion Hell" Wagner continues her unbroken streak of excellent and incisive architectural criticism with a new piece that riffs on Stewart Brand's classic "How Buildings Learn" to discuss how McMansions have gone awry: they represent a break from the tradition of designing stuff to fit in spaces, and instead, they are spaces designed for status-displaying stuff.
Ironically, these design priorities make spaces less flexible (what the fuck do you do with a three-storey "great room" when you want to change up its use?) and less suitable for human habitation.
Of course, the premier example of a house designed for stuff is the McMansion, which, as I have argued at length elsewhere, is designed from the inside out. The reason it looks the way it does is because of the increasingly long laundry list of amenities (movie theaters, game rooms) needed to accumulate the highest selling value and an over-preparedness for the maximum possible accumulation of both people (grand parties) and stuff (grand pianos). This comes at the expense of structure, skin, and services. The structure becomes wildly convoluted, having to accommodate both ceilings of towering heights and others half that size, often within the same volume. Because of this, the rooflines are particularly complex, featuring several different pitches and shapes, and the walls are peppered with large great-room windows (a selling feature!), and other windows on any given elevation consist of many different sizes and shapes.
The skin—which often features many different types of cladding—and the roof are, due to their complexity, more prone to vulnerabilities, such as leaks. Because of the equally complex internal space plan, often following the trend of more and more open floorplans and large internal volumes, services like heating and cooling have to combat irregular volumes and energy leakage through features like massive picture windows. Rooms are programmed for specific activities: craft rooms, man caves, movie theaters. This is a kind of architectural stockpiling, devoting space to hobbies that could easily be performed in other parts of the house, out of a strange fear of not having enough space.
Building houses that grow with us [Kate Wagner/Curbed]