McMansion Hell Author Comes to Columbus
The blog McMansion Hell has gained a lot of fans and notoriety in the short time it’s been in existence. Started in July of 2016 by Kate Wagner, the popular site went viral shortly after its launch and has since been featured in such varied publications as Huffington Post, Paper Magazine, and Business Insider.
Columbus Underground sat down with Wagner in advance of her appearance at McMansion Hell: LIVE, an event put on by the Young Ohio Preservationists that will take place tonight at the Ohio Statehouse.
CU: Have you ever heard from an owner of one of the houses on the blog?
KW: Never – it’s astonishing to me that no one has ever emailed me and said, “hey, I live here!”
CU: How about an architect or builder?
KW: Builders email me all the time – they say they’re glad someone’s calling out the people who are bad at this job. Realtors also, they say the blog is their catharsis, because it’s so hard to sell these houses.
CU: Is your background in architecture?
KW: No, people are alway surprised to learn that. I study architectural acoustics, and before that I was a recording engineer, a musician, a composer, I worked at a speaker company. I’m mostly self taught. I’m 23, and I started getting into architecture when I was 13 or 14, I was always interested in it as a kid. I have a reading regimen…I read every day, and when you do that for ten years – when you really learn something new every day – I’ve spent probably close to that 10,000 hours on it at this point.
CU: Have you done these live shows before?
KW: I’ve done one, in Baltimore, which is where I live, so it was more of a local thing, at the book store where I write most of the posts, so it was more casual. This’ll be more structured, I’ll have a presentation about McMansions – why they look the way they do, whether or not they should be preserved, we’ll do a Q and A, and then I’ll do a live house roast of a house I found in the area, in Dublin.
CU: And what’s your take on whether these houses should be preserved?
KW: For me preservation means the conservation of a period of time, and is not so much about whether its architecture merits preservation. There’s starting to be a lot of interest that there hadn’t been in the past in preserving certain communities from the WPA, and post-war suburbs…these old suburban forms – whether it’s shopping malls or old commercial buildings – and I think that points to a direction in preservation for McMansions.
There were specific communities affected by the (housing) crash – it would be interesting to preserve the neighborhood and have this educational resource – this is what people built before everything came crumbling down.
Also, some do have architectural merit, they’re good articulations of post-modern architecture, done in a vernacular way…it’s remarkably interesting, and not touched on enough. There have always been houses that imitate the architecture of the time, and some of these are imitating the commercial architecture of the 80’s and 90’s.
The majority of McMansions are not worth saving, but it’d be interesting to have something saved as a reminder of what, at this point, is a 40 year phenomenon – that’s a huge swath of time to just discredit. So I think it’s important to sort of swallow your pride and take an objective and contextualized look at…this period of American history.
CU: How do you find the houses you feature?
KW: I sort by price, from high to low, then sort by year. The filter I use runs from 1970 to 2015, but sometimes I narrow it down – the cheesiest houses were built between 1985 and 2007…the 90’s houses are my favorite.
I’ll be doing Ohio in a couple of weeks, New York is next, that’s gonna be fun. New Jersey has been my favorite state, the most interesting McMansions I’ve ever seen, especially in the Princeton area.
CU: Any thoughts on Ohio McMansions so far?
KW: I have a request form, where people send in links, and I’ve been sent more houses from Ohio and Indiana than any other state. The best places to find McMansions in any city is just outside of the city limits, in the surrounding county. So far, I’ve seen some good ones in Blacklick, Dublin, some others.
CU: What are your plans for the blog going forward?
KW: I’ll keep writing for a while, there are several different things I want to expand upon – the history of McMansions, how they got to be, the financial crisis, the history of architecture. I also want to do a series about everyday houses, working people’s homes…vernacular architecture. I will never run out of houses to make fun of – I might make some changes to how I do it, but as long as people aren’t bored with it, I’ll keep going.