INSIDE THE ISSUES: What values do houses reflect?

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A McMansion is a curious thing.

I don’t resent people who live in large, expensive houses in highly exclusive neighborhoods.

My only question to a McMansion owner is, “Why does your large, expensive house look like everyone else’s large, expensive house in your highly exclusive neighborhood?”

There might very well be exceptions between the pages of Architectural Digest or in far-flung niches of wealth. But there’s a disconcerting similarity in the homes of the wealthy I have seen.

Of course, it’s partly due to aesthetic concerns, historical concerns, or, in the case of a gated community, majority preference.

It is of no importance to me whether a homeowner lives in a teepee, a log cabin or a geodesic dome.

But, at least from the outside, most McMansions in a given neighborhood have a sameness that is almost Orwellian.

Brian Miller, an assistant professor of sociology at Wheaton College, conducted research on media references to McMansions. His assessment of the public perception is that the McMansion style, if there is one, is a combination of four or five architectural styles more or less stuck together.

The Urban Dictionary ( defines a McMansion as “a large and pretentious house, typically of shoddy construction, typical of ‘upscale’ suburban developments in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

“Such houses are characterized by steep roofs of complex design, theatrical entrances, lack of stylistic integrity and backsides which are notably less fussy than their fronts.

“They are often placed close together to maximize the developer’s profits and appeal to people who value perceived social status over actual, physical, economic or historic value.”

These brick boxes, formidable in size and assertive in style, project no individuality at all, nothing that speaks to or symbolizes the people who live in them.

If you have enough money to build any kind of home you want, anywhere you want to build it, why don’t you make it a unique representation of who you are instead of a copy of every other building on your block?

By choosing to live in structures with designs that so-called architects churn out like Burger King assembles Whoppers, are you subconsciously saying that you will do anything to convince your neighbors that you belong in their presence?

Is the statement you’re making of a political, cultural or financial nature?

Or are you just willing to sublimate your own taste to the taste or lack of taste of others for the sake of status and peer-group approval?

According to data from, a real estate website, about 11 percent of people looking to buy new houses say they want something in the 3,200-square-feet-or-more range.

With the current state of the housing market, they might even get what might be called, in relative terms, a bargain if it’s a used McMansion.

However, Frank Lloyd Wright, who was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time,” said, “All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable.”

What human values do McMansions reflect?
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