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Big buildings: Bigger than they used to be

When my parents built their dream house in 1962, it seemed, at about 2,000 square feet, all the space a family could possibly need in one L-shaped ranch house.

It had four bedrooms, for cryin' out loud. It had two bathrooms. It had a living room AND a family room. All I could think was, what more could you want?

Well, now we know.

Last week on TV I watched Dr. Phil counsel a divorced woman about why she maybe wasn't suffering as much as she thought because she was having to learn to live with 3,000 square feet of living space — just for herself, mind you — even though she had been used to a 14,000-square-foot home.

OK, after listening to the other person who lives at our house defend the woman because it wasn't her fault her no-good husband dumped her after many years of service to their marriage, I stopped demonizing her and chose instead to emphasize the practical: Does anybody really need 14,000 square feet of living space?

I've been poking around the Internet, and it appears that lots of people do need that much. Many need even more. I found real estate listings for ridiculously huge houses all over the country. There was one in Miami that was 17,000 square feet.

What was billed as the biggest house in Alabama — a whopping 50,000 square feet — was on the market for $17.9 million. Probably a steal at that price — but, let's face it, if you bought it, you'd still be in Alabama.

There were plenty of others: 28,000 square feet in Post Falls, Idaho, 18,000 in Sands Point, N.Y., 36,000 in Hickory Creek, Texas, 10,000 in Alpine, N.J., 20,169 in Greenwhich, Conn., and 30,000 in Tucson, Ariz., and Los Altos, Calif.

Come on, I thought to myself. You could operate pretty complete Wal-Mart stores in these kinds of spaces.

Suddenly, big homes around here seemed downright modest.

Without looking beyond Lake Oswego, I found listings for houses of 8,800 square feet ($7.9 million), 14,411 square feet ($3.97 million) and 7,847 square feet ($3.8 million).

With these kinds of sizes (and in this particular location), I'm pretty sure potential buyers are getting great deals. Think about it — you have the wooded splendor of Lake Oswego's hilly terrain, easy access to a major city, all the amenities a modern home has to offer — and you're nowhere near Alabama.

I'm always surprised during those real estate segments on “Good Morning America,” when a real estate agent comes on and shows you what your dollar can buy in other markets, how stinking cheap things are in other parts of the country.

In some parts of Ohio, for instance, you can buy a good-size, loaded house for less than $200,000. Heck, the median sales price there from September to December 2013 was $125,500.

In Detroit you can buy a house for pretty much whatever you have in your pocket. And in Mississippi, quite a few houses on the market are free.

OK, maybe that last one was an exaggeration.

And then there is China.

In Chengdu, China, which happens to be (at 14 million people) China's fourth largest city, they have built the world's largest freestanding building.

Oh sure, it isn't a house exactly. It's a shopping center. It's called the New Century Global Center, and it is — now listen to this — 20 million square feet in size.

You heard right. Twenty million.

How big is a 20 million-square-foot shopping center, you wonder?

Well, it would hold 20 Sydney opera houses and three U.S. Pentagons.

Put another way, you could put 329 football fields inside it.

The New Century Global Center contains: a hotel, an Imax theater, an aquarium, a water park with its own beach (with 1,000 feet of coastline and backed by a 150-meter-long LED screen that is 50 stories high, showing an oceanscape). Just to compare that last bit of trivia, the Statue of Liberty is 30 stories high.

This Chinese mall boasts more than 150 stores, palm trees throughout, not to mention marble floors, stairs, walls, etc. It also contains a five-story-high glass bridge with a prominent sign advising, “not for people with heart conditions . . . or women in skirts.”

In China, when people go to the mall, they really go to the mall. Of course, most of them don't have 20,000-square-foot houses that have such a hold on them that they never want to go outside.

You know, like us.

(Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.)



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