The Atlantic is a relentless enemy of the Outer Banks shoreline. There are genuinely moving stories of people’s retirement houses being swept away thanks to being undermined by surf and storm.

When I first went to the Outer Banks in 1999, there was still a goodly number of beach shacks visible on the ocean side of Virginia Dare Trail. They were single story, often unpainted structures, many with louvre windows, manifestly lacking most amenities.

But there came a time when a desire to enjoy the OBX was married to INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES! with the consequent building of bajillions of beach McMansions paying for themselves with their rental fees.

Since you can get a pretty nice ocean-front hotel room between $100-200, by economic necessity these hideous piles are built to fit an extended Duggar family (19 and counting!) of renters with room to spare so as to keep per-person rental costs low. These small cities sit cheek-by-jowl on smaller, more affordable lots. You literally spend your vacation looking over your shoulder to see if the neighbors can see you as you go to take a shower and you hear their not-too-muffled conversations, grunts, and other sounds all day long and well into the night.

Figure 2. Satellite view of East Seagull Drive, Nags Head, N.C. Photo: Google.

This relentless monetization came full circle: even the shacks nowadays have those little rental agency signs on them, flipped by investors. It’s reminiscent of what they say about Venice, Italy: no one lives there but the tourists.

The regime I’ve described above is practically a factory for bad decisions, to which we owe the genuinely sad spectacle of houses awash on the shoreline, raised by an army of pilings, tilting, tipping and abandoned. There was a string of half a dozen or so houses on the ocean side of what was once East Seagull Drive in South Nags Head. You can see pictures (and read commentary) from 2010 here, and from 2012 here. Most of those houses have been demolished and trucked off in recent years, but one remains (figures 1 and 2).

Figure 3. Mediterraneoid gingerbread dormerrific archy house. Corolla, N.C. Photo: author.

Though the best of them have been carted off to museums in recent years, one used to be able to see rotten keels of shipwrecks here and there along the seashore, and my mind turns to these when I think of the housewrecks at Nags Head. The ocean is the wrecking engine in both cases, and the strand of the beach is the site of both types of wreck: it’s just that the process goes in opposite directions.

“Housewrecks” puts me in mind of Jen Yates’ admirable Cakewrecks website, a satirical cake-focused precursor of Kate Wagner’s equally funny architectural McMansion Hell site. And it would not be right to have complained above about hideous McMansions along the shore without trotting out a design wreck to reprehend. So I give you, from Corolla, North Carolina, the Mediterraneoid gingerbread dormerrific archy house (figure 3).

Figure 4. Mediterraneoid gingerbread dormerrific archy house, front façade. Photo: author.

This pile was built to present the face in figure 3 to northbound traffic along NC 12, though it formally faces N. Harbor View. If you have a look in Wagner’s tutorials on what makes a McMansion (and what makes one bad), you’ll see most of it here. I sincerely don’t know what to make of those arches that turn 90 degrees at mid arch. The heap of excrescent dormers and other masses on the right in figure 3 also defies description (except as an “excrescent heap”).

The corner-ish lot doubtless cost an arm and a leg; the landscaping is mostly in sloppy disjunction to the style of the house, however.

Figure 5. Mediterraneoid gingerbread dormerrific archy house. Detail of mural work on front arch. Photo: author.

As you make your way around the house note the profusion of differently shaped- and sized windows and the lawyer foyer: hallmarks of a McMansion. The mural of a vine rising from a pot in the front arch is in agreement with the other Mediterranean gestures of the house, but the turquoise (or verdigris) and adobe color palette points more to Santa Fe than Majorca.

Figure 6. Mediterraneoid gingerbread dormerrific archy house trying on a sleepy-eyed Cthulhu (or Minion) look. Photo: author.

Charles Jencks, the famous architectural historian, plays a game of finding the anthropomorphisms an architect has unwittingly placed in a façade. Here (figure 6) we have a sleepy-eyed Cthulhu, or just maybe a Minion.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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