McMansion 'Hell No'

Zillow slams popular architecture blog for using its photos of terrible houses

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Zillow slams popular architecture blog for using its photos of terrible houses. Pictured here: A typical critique from Kate Wagner's McMansion Hell. (McMansion Hell / Image via puddingstonepost.com)
Zillow slams popular architecture blog for using its photos of terrible houses. Pictured here: A typical critique from Kate Wagner's McMansion Hell. (McMansion Hell / Image via puddingstonepost.com)

Update 6/29/17: McMansion Hell is out of legal hot water. Read the latest here.
Update 6/27 /17: This post has been updated with comment from Zillow.

A popular blog that skewers McMansions has temporarily shut down after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the real estate site Zillow.

Kate Wagner started her blog, McMansion Hell, as a way to reveal (and revel in) the contradictions of America’s aspirational domestic vernacular architecture post-1980. Specifically, she focuses on homes whose vast floor plans display luxury more than halfway down the road to ungainly excess: A typical post may feature fake columns sprouting around turrets and picture windows that shelter vast marble kitchen islands, double-sized foyers, and Trumpian glass chandeliers. A graduate student in acoustics at Johns Hopkins, Wagner taught herself about architecture, often using images from real estate sites to show readers how we got from this to this.

Her aversion to jargon and embrace of image-based critique has earned McMansion Hell fans in and outside the architecture world. It’s also apparently caught the eye of Zillow’s legal department. Yesterday, Wagner posted a letter she received from the Zillow team on Twitter:

The letter states that, by re-blogging photos with commentary, Wagner has violated Zillow’s terms of use and infringed on the rights of the copyright holders of the images. It warns her to stop using images from Zillow and gives her until Thursday to delete all offending images from her site.

In response to the missive, Wagner issued a statement, below, on the potential impact of shuttering McMansion Hell (right now, it’s not dead; the domain is offline as Wagner archives content). She is currently seeking legal council.

A representative from Zillow, Emily Heffter, clarified the company’s intent in response to a query from The Architect’s Newspaper. The email contained a message from Katie Curnutte, the company’s vice president of communications and public affairs, to Wagner that explained Zillow’s beef with the images:

[We] do not own the rights to many of the photos on our site, and therefore can’t give permission for third parties, such as yourself, to take the photos from our website for any purpose. We get them from brokerages and MLSs who are advertising homes for sale and through those agreements we have an obligation to protect the interest of the copyright holders who license the images to Zillow.

In a revelation that should delight fans of the blog, Curnutte emphasized that “we do not want you to take down your blog.”

Today on Twitter, Wagner said that a new post, using images in the public domain, will be up this Saturday.

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