The Berkeley Forum hosted architecture critic Kate Wagner whose viral blog McMansion Hell “roasts the world’s ugliest houses” at an event in the Environmental Design Library on Tuesday night.
After graduating from Johns Hopkins University, Wagner put her architectural acoustics master’s degree to use when her blog gained popularity. The biweekly blog’s mission is to educate people on architectural concepts by mainly critiquing large suburban homes. In addition to her blog, Wagner has bylines in several publications, including The Atlantic and CityLab.
Berkeley Forum President Michael Chien introduced Wagner at the event and called her “witty, smart and savage.”
“There’s a significant community of undergraduates and other community members that are passionate about design and architecture,” Chien said before the event. “Our mission is to host events that all parts of campus find relevant and interesting, so it’s only natural that we showcase speakers from that field.”
At the event, Wagner provided a simple definition of a “McMansion.” A McMansion is oversized, poorly designed and built to communicate wealth and prestige, according to Wagner. She added that they typically have features such as multicar garages, monumental entryways and irregular window shapes. McMansions are typically designed in the dated tripartite layout, which separates the home into public, private and service spaces, according to Wagner.
McMansion Hell was constructed to appeal to an audience beyond architects, according to Wagner. She said the blog bridges the gap between everyday people and architects who already find McMansions “inherently funny.”
“People love to know what to hate,” Wagner said at the event. “Giving them the words to explain why they hate it is a very powerful way to teach people about design.”
Beyond critiquing modern, suburban architecture, Wagner also criticized the uniform design standards at HGTV, which “suffocates” individual artistic freedom.
Wagner said she doesn’t feel this pressure in her own apartment in Baltimore, Maryland, which is far from a McMansion with its “popcorn ceilings” and walls.
“I feel, like, this need to have this extremely good-looking apartment,” Wagner said at the event. “But the truth is, I have a writer’s budget, so I just do whatever I want, and it’s kind of liberating.”
During the audience question-and-answer portion of the event, one community member asked if Wagner feels her blog could serve as an inspiration for other design critics. In response, Wagner said she would love to read more blogs like her own, which will come from “mass movements of young people on the internet.” She has also noticed a recent increase in humorous criticism of classical music.
“I would love to see someone do a blog that’s just roasting furniture or car design,” Wagner said at the event. “I’m surprised those types of things haven’t taken off yet.”