The rise and rise of McMansions

Article by CNN

Between 2006 and 2012, Swedish photographer Martin Adolfsson set-out to capture the rise of gated, suburban communities in emerging nations around the world.

Intrigued by the rising middle class in these fast-expanding economies, Adolfsson visited 44 model homes in eight different countries. All displayed strikingly similar characteristics and seemed to be taking their lead from architectural and structural ideas popularized across the U.S over the last century.

The houses featured in this image for instance would not seem out of place in Florida or Arizona. In actual fact, they are part of the Millennium Park development situated on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia.

But why does the great American suburban dream (and the imaginatively named “McMansion” style house) hold such appeal outside of the U.S.?

A model of the Vintage Sao Paulo suburban community in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Adolfsson said he believes people in emerging nations are drawn towards projects such as these because they believe they evoke an image of success, wealth and affluence.

“What I think we’re seeing is an upper middle class that has been growing fairly rapidly over the last two decades accompanying the economic expansion in these countries,” he said.

“In many of these countries they haven’t had an established upper middle class before. They’ve had a ruling class but not perhaps a professional upper middle class.”

“I think (these homes) are a way for them to indicate that they have achieved a certain standing in society.”

Building work nears completion at the Saint Andrew’s Manor complex in Shanghai, China.

“What we are seeing is essentially the American suburban dream,” Adolfsson said. “This has been brought to people through movies, through soap operas, through magazines for decades. That’s really what people see as something desirable.”

“These trends are a result of decades of American dominance when it comes to pop culture … and the export of pop culture which is predominantly American.”

“The picture on the nightstand was something that was reoccuring in every country,” Adolfsson said.

“In Cairo, for instance, the pictures had more of a Middle Eastern feel. In Mexico City they looked more Latin so they appeared similar to the people who would be buying the homes.”

These pictures were taken in Brazil (left), Russia (center top), South Africa (center bottom), Egypt (right top) and China (right bottom).

But not everywhere adapted to meet the profile of the local population…

“China was the country that took the (bedside pictures) to a whole new level,” Adolfsson continued.

In these images taken in a show home at Saint Andrews Manor in Shanghai, China, pictures of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry adorn two different bedside spaces. “In one home there was even a photo of (film director) Michael Moore,” Adolfsson added.
“I’m not 100% sure whether they thought John Kerry just looked like a successful businessman or even knew who he was.”

Strikingly similar furniture and sculpture at separate suburban show homes in the Sheshaun Yinhu Noble Villa in Shanghai, China (left), and the Southridge complex in Bangalore, India (right).

“It was interesting in that the homes themselves were very similar but the surrounding cultural community (outside of the gates) was very different,” Adolfsson said.

“The people living in these enclaves seem to have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens living outside the gated community.”

“I think that’s really what’s interesting. It’s almost like you have these small isolated islands of prosperity. They seem to strive for the same things as other people in these enclaves in other emerging countries.”


“I think the majority of people simply go with what they see in different outlets in terms of media or what the neighbors are purchasing or buying. I mean, we do this to some extent after all,” Adolfsson said.

Nevertheless, “it’s really impossible to tell if you’re in Shanghai or Sao Paulo or if you’re in Bangalore or Mexico City,” when you visit these communities, he added.

“Suburbia Gone Wild” – book by Adolfsson- took Adolfsson to India, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Thailand and China. He said he wanted to create a “project that could talk about these trends on a global rather than just a regional scale.”

While welcomed with curious bemusement in some places, Adolfsson was viewed with suspicion in others. This led to him occasionally taking the delicate approach of posing alongside various fixers as a husband and wife couple to gain access to the show homes.

“In Egypt, people were very concerned about me taking photographs so I had to hide the camera and make sure I didn’t get caught. In other places like India or Mexico City they didn’t really care that much,” he said.