Monday, December 15, 2008
Combating McMansion craze
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
In the past 10 years, there have been several trends in the local and national housing markets worth noting: The first is that houses have increased in size. Since 1970, the average size of a single-family home in the United States increased from 1,500 square feet to 2,443 — even though there are now only 2.5 people on average living in each home. The second trend? Because of the first trend, houses cost more. The third trend is that people are moving back to the city.
Many people who work "downtown" have decided commuting an hour or two a day is not the lifestyle they want. So they are relocating closer to work.The new movement to urban living is alive and well in Utah's capital. Many new apartments and condominiums have been added to the downtown skyline, and many more are on the drawing boards for the new City Creek Center development.
However, condominium living is not for everyone. That is why more people are looking at neighborhoods within the city limits. Because vacant building lots are almost nonexistent, consumers who want to be close to the city have to consider older homes. While the more established, tree-lined neighborhoods are charming and attractive, the homes themselves are not always suited to the current penchant for open-style floor plans and technology-centered living.
What to do?There are only two choices — tear down and rebuild or remodel. Either case can be a threat to the neighbors and neighborhood. A new home with 9 or 10-foot ceilings, oversize windows and doors, and elaborate roof lines can feel like an impolite intrusion into the existing context. Second story additions to existing homes can also make a home incompatible with the scale and character of the neighborhood. McMansions are never good neighbors.
On the other hand, a neighborhood is a living, changing organism. Anyone who thinks their street should never change is unrealistic and short-sighted. This influx of new families into older neighborhoods is what keeps property values strong and brings vitality to an otherwise stagnant situation. The question is not how to prevent the change but how to manage it.
Several defenses have been raised against those who either intentionally (read: evil developers) or ignorantly (read: the uninformed public) invade our neighborhoods and communities.Zoning ordinances restrict the size and height of new structures. Some neighborhoods organize and create restrictive covenants or design guidelines for their area. Other neighborhoods go to the extent of creating historic districts so they can impose added restrictions on new construction.
None of these approaches is a panacea and, in fact, some of these efforts can result in legislated mediocrity and boring repetition. The bottom line is that you cannot legislate good taste.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, perhaps the best defense is a good architect. An architect will help a family identify needs vs. wants and prioritize goals for their new home. They will show ways to multitask spaces while reducing the size of a structure but not its functionality. A good architect will look at the context — the neighborhood — to adjust the massing (size, height, etc.) of the new or remodeled home so it slips easily into its surroundings. Working with an architect will help educate homeowners and raise their consciousness regarding not only the rights of property ownership, but the responsibilities as well.
When you see that Dumpster dropped off in your neighbor's yard, cross your fingers that they have hired an architect. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.