Sunday, July 12, 2015

Architecture Big and Small

The Denver Post recently ran an article about the popularity of "tiny houses" while mentioning in passing the prevalence of "McMansions."  I wrote the following letter to the newspaper, published two days later.
Rebekah Paulson is building a Tiny Home for herself in
Fort Collins. The home is 20 feet long by 8 feet wide and 13'6" tall.
(Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
Re: "Colorado woman's tiny house lets her live large on less," July 7 news story.

Your article about recent widespread interest in tiny houses contrasted them to so-called McMansions. These two phenomena are often compared, but important points about both tend to be obscured. 

Tiny houses are fun experiments in using resources wisely. However, a large part of their popularity comes from the fact that our economy is too broken to support home ownership for many who crave it. Increasingly, only the well-off can consider building a full-size home. 

Regarding McMansions, this term originally meant very large tract houses that pretend to be grander than their vapid finishes should allow. They are mass-produced like hamburgers with no understanding of taste or style.  Now McMansion has morphed into any big house no matter its utility or architectural worth. A funny criticism has turned into a spiteful slur. 

Contrasting tiny homes with McMansions conflates two unrelated issues and sets up a straw man for the advocates of tiny houses to attack. There is plenty to be said about tiny houses and much to criticize in awkward tract houses, but abusing metaphors only confuses both subjects. 

Michael Knorr, Architect

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