Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Witold Rybczynski's taste in McMansions is not quite perfectly wrongheaded. The seventh slide in his presentation, of a pseudo-Queen Anne house from Pacific Heights, CA, shows a house which is not totally repulsive, and he's got it properly included in his set of four "good McMansions". But of the other three, and the four McMansions he cites as offensive to the eye - my god, what have they been putting in his pinot noir?

The fifth slide, the first of the "good McMansions", shows a sprawling, psychotic white mess of a house, with an overbearing centre-line and a frightening overbite, as if the facade was shifting forward in preparation of an impending collapse, or as if a recent earthquake had pancaked a missing second floor in between the oversize gables and the compressed, hunched first floor. The sixth slide is of a melange that rather looks like an A-frame molesting a mock-Tudor. The eighth slide, of a pseudo-Georgian misfire with a disturbing roofline which looks as if someone had hacked holes in roof on either side of the central building, is not quite as horrifying as the other two, but still! Yet, in each case, his commentary is laudatory and admiring. Incomprehensible.

Now, I'm not saying that his four "bad McMansion" examples are much of anything one way or the other, but in comparison with his favorites, they're models of balance, proportion and calm. The fourth slide, with the house with a brick facade and a vinyl side, is a bit of an aesthetic bodge, yes, but in comparison with House Overbite? I think not!

The whole line of argument - that the oversized houseness of the McMansion is inherently bad in aesthetic terms - is, I think, a particularly foul case of class snobbery hiding within the cloak of "good taste". Rybczynski complains quite a lot about the lack of coherent "style" in his "bad McMansions", but why should new buildings be perfect photocopies of decades-old or centuries-old housing styles? The houses he savages are well-proportioned and to scale. The houses he prefers are monstrous and alienating. I rather suspect that Rybczynski prefers that the inhabitants of designed buildings be alienated from their domiciles. Well, nuts to that!

No comments: