The rise and rise of the "McMansion"

Published 0422 GMT (1222 HKT) May 9, 2014
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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.?

We spoke to the Brooklyn-based photographer, who released a self-published book called Suburbia Gone Wild on the topic last year, to find out.

Interview and captions by Eoghan Macguire
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
Building work nears completion at the Saint Andrew's Manor complex in Shanghai, China.

"Suburbia Gone Wild" 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.
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
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."
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
A giant billboard advertisement for the Mivida housing complex near Cairo, Egypt.

"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."
Martin Adolfsson
"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...
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
"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."
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
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."
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
Is there anything more middle class than golf?

Saint Andrews Manor in Shanghai, China, may be thousands of miles from the Old Course in Saint Andrews, Scotland, but this putting machine could still help potential home-buyers brush up on their short game.
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
The kitchens of suburban show homes in Bangkok, Thailand (left) and Mexico City, Mexico (right).

"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.
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson
Bedrooms were another place that followed a similarly western theme. Some went for a classic European four-poster bed style while others followed more minimalistic values.

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

Suburbia Gone Wild, is available via Amazon and Martin Adolfsson's personal website.
Courtesy Martin Adolfsson