Modernist Imperatives become Decadence in Parasite

Reflecting on the failure of capitalist society to provide humane social housing, the film Parasite draws a stark contrast between the living conditions of the haves and the have-nots. The famed architect designed Park residence, where most of the film takes place, feels spacious and agreeable -but never awe inspiring or too exceptional. The modernist principles of good residential architecture such as natural light, views, fresh air, and uncluttered open floor plan are not shown as common features but as luxury commodities afforded only by the elites. Even art and furniture are available only to the rich Park residence and not in the half-basement apartment of the poor Kim family. If the Park residence contained common trappings of luxury such as gilded furnishing and overly ornate decorations throughout, instead of sparse modernist details, the film would have been less powerful in terms of driving the point that certain living conditions in the built environment are fundamental for a good life regardless of class or money. Instead of chasing decadence, the poor Kim family is drawn to life in the Park house for easily grasped improvements from their own squalid living conditions. The director commented he wanted to make a film focusing on the problem of inequality in Korea, but found out after the film’s release that the film was addressing a global problem.

Globally, architects who practice as service providers for the rich have little power in determining the living conditions of the lower class. More often than not, developer clients are driven by motives of profit rather than a sense of duty toward improving the lives of the eventual occupants. In America, the standard of low-income residential spaces is higher than in countries such as Korea. However, that improved standard has acted as a deterrence for constructing new low-income dwellings. With America’s planning and building codes (that mandate standard features of natural light, ventilation, fire safety, accessibility, water drainage, and plumbing and electrical standards) housing developments have ran into a standstill as developers focus more on building housings for the upper class rather than spend money on building habitable low to middle class housings –in order to gain a higher margin of profit from their investments. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that each housing development must go through an entitlement process full of resistance from existing home owners. Hence, massive homeless populations have formed against the backdrop of the practice of housing as an investment. Societal failure to provide safe and comfortable shelters is a problem that can only be addressed through political interventions. Only once such interventions are in place, ethical architecture can address fundamental issues of ideal living not as decadence for the few but as an imperative for the many.