It feels like we are out of the design doldrum where McMansions ruled. There was a time in Los Angeles where these suburban monsters were popping up in otherwise beautiful neighborhoods, sliding in next to Spanish Colonial Revival homes and California cool glass houses. That safety gap was short lived though: a new design monster is encroaching upon us.
These new home monsters are fake creatures of design pretending to be design. They are all the same. They are simple. They are the new McMansion: they are a Rash Of Boxes. Thanks to magazines like Dwell, who have built a tastemaking trend industry out of home design, the Modernist box house has become the new norm. Old houses are being knocked down so boxes can be dropped in. They aren’t even designer, cool houses that you might actually see in the magazine, mysterious squares that make you wonder what is happening behind the walls: they are boxy boxes on boxes, a cold rectangle on another cold rectangle hanging on a cold square on a cold grid, a building block ripoff.
They are smooth stucco and polished steel with glass patio walls wrapped in slatted wood fences with frosted plastic windows. The trees are lightweight, surrounded by reedy greens, everything in the name of lines and lines and lines. There is no character here outside of the clean: these homes are just “nice” because someone saw it in a magazine and said “I want That Nice because That Nice is what That Person has and I want to be That Person so give me That Nice also I have a lot of money, here, take my money and let me buy That Nice.” The creativity of Modern housing is absent though. There are no minimalist tricks for the eyes or treats for the senses. What is being erected instead is the H&M of architecture.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these houses were infrequent and few. They are not though. In the city of West Hollywood (and surrounding neighborhoods in Los Angeles), this Rash Of Boxes is rapidly spreading. Houses are being bought and demolished for these monsters to suck up every inch of a residential plot. An industry of boxy boxy contractors and boxy realtors are emerging to feed this beast of people buying taste. You don’t believe it? Listen to this: all the photos from this post were taken from a walk last week that was only .7 miles, only six residential blocks. In addition to finished boxy homes, there were six boxy homes being built. Signs for contractors with poorly designed depictions of box homes were on fences and on trash bins, attempting to draw you to call them to build you a box house, person with enough money and trendy tastes.
The Rash Of Boxes is more visually appealing than the McMansions. That is undeniable. What is tragic about this is that these houses are not creative because they are faux-sleek: they are the result of McMansion builders employing the same philosophy to a design trend. That is horrifying. It’s scary to see architectural creativity be broken down in a fast fashion, to see nice old Spanish Revival homes fall to make way for a plastered box. It wouldn’t be annoying if all these houses weren’t exactly the same. There is no variety. There is no individuality. They are all nu suburbia eye litter.
Perhaps this is the future and we should have expected architecture to become the next creative field to be trend raped. Perhaps. Maybe all these houses will be written up in Dwell and we will laugh at this and then cry, upset that the new norm are these gray monoliths that aren’t stone but wish they were. You can see every reference on their face. You can see them turning from new design to old design. You can see time pass with these houses and it is very, very sad.
I have seen the future of suburban architecture and it is very boring. It is a Rash Of Boxes. You can preview your design future by wandering around West Hollywood.