McMansions 101 from McMansion Hell

Design Principle #1: Masses & Voids

The mass is the largest portion of a building. Individual masses become interesting when they are combined together to form a façade. The arrangement of these shapes to create weight is called massing. As the pieces are combined, they are divided into categories: primary and secondary masses (1).

The primary mass is the largest shape in the building block. The secondary masses are the additional shapes that form the façade of a building.

Windows, doors, or other openings are called voids. Voids allow creation of negative space that allow for breaks within masses. Placing voids that allow for natural breaks in the mass create balance and rhythm across the building’s elevation.


The secondary masses should never compete with the primary mass.
For example: an oversized projected entry or portico (secondary mass) will overwhelm the house (primary mass) behind it.
The McMansion has no concept of mass.
McMansions often have so many secondary masses that the primary mass is reduced to a role of filling in gaps between the secondary masses. An example:


Another issue with McMansions and mass is the use of too many voids. Some McMansions are so guilty of this they resemble swiss cheese in appearance. In the below example, the masses are so pockmarked with voids, they give the façade an overall appearance of emptiness.


Design Principle #2: Balance

Balance is the relationship among the parts of a building on either side of an imaginary centerline through the middle of the house. Houses can be symmetrically or asymmetrically balanced.

In a symmetrically balanced house, the shapes on one side of the centerline match the shapes on the other side. The two halves are visually equal, as seen in the example below.


In an asymmetrically balanced house, the shapes may not match exactly, but instead have equal visual weight they are still visually balanced.


Another example:


McMansions have notoriously poor balance. See the example below:


In this design, one can barely tell where the line of symmetry is to be drawn due to the conflicting rooflines and architectural elements. Another example, where the line of symmetry is difficult to distinguish:


To continue reading Principle 3 & 4 click here.



2 thoughts on “McMansions 101 from McMansion Hell”

  1. Ted Wight says:

    It was linked at the bottom of the page where you were to continue reading the other principals. Title has been updated to be more clear!

  2. Ted Wight says:

    It was linked at the bottom of the page where you were to continue reading the other 2 principals. The title has been updated to be more clear!

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