Interior Design & Architecture: Building the "Parasite House"
Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar winning “Parasite” has been lavished with praise for its insightful delve into the world of class warfare, but at Kensington Design we have noted at how equally impressive the interior design and architecture of the “Parasite” house set design is. Despite being a film notable for its scrutiny over the social class divide, “Parasite” uses the house architecture to nail down its brutal message and guide the film’s narrative.
Architect vs. Production Team:
Unbeknown to many viewers across the globe, the entire set of Parasite was built from scratch. In the film, this sleek example of modern architecture was designed by a fictional architect named Namgoong Hyeonja – but in truth, the design was entirely down to the brainchild of “Parasite” production designer, Lee Ha Jun. However, the way in which an architect approaches a design is very different to a set production designer, and certain elements that an architect would not take into consideration hugely affected the design.
Although the small details were important to the design, the overall design of the house needed to be perfected for the story to play out in. It was crucial that the design of the house would allow the characters to be able to eavesdrop or hide, and so creating blocking lines in an open-floor plan house was no easy feat. Many scenes required Lee Ha Jun and his team to build a third and unseen staircase system, giving way to a subterranean bunker.
The “Parasite” House:
Bong refers to the film as a “staircase movie”, as we, the audience, spend the first third of the movie learning the basics of the home’s architecture. The primary space of the house is deceptively simple: a large open-floor plan flows seamlessly from the kitchen through to the living room, which in turn looks out onto a sprawling green front lawn. Two barefaced staircases connect the uninterrupted open layout to a series of bedrooms above, and a small basement below it. To create the subterranean bunker the team created an elaborate, continuous unit, spanning from the kitchen steps to a small basement filled with fermentation jars to the hidden stairway to the secret bunker below.
The minimalist nature of the house was intended to make the viewer feel that they can see all there is to see within the space. To see everything, you get the sense that the space is not trying to hide anything. The simple planes and lines all come together to then shock the viewer --*spoiler alert*-- when the man in the bunker and hidden parts of the house are revealed. This comes as a shock to the audience as the minimalist nature of the house lures you into a safe space where you assume that you have seen everything and that nothing is hidden.
The furniture, from the chairs to the lamps, each item in the house was custom-made by a modernist carpenter named Bahk Jong Sun – specifically chosen for the project due to his nature for sleek and angular aesthetic. The living room table that the characters hide underneath at one point during the film, was designed to echo the upstairs-downstairs visual and class divide theme. The importance when designing the table was that the production team needed a structure and level where the Park family could not see the other hidden characters whatsoever, whether they were lying straight or on their sides.
Due to the custom-made nature of the artwork or furniture in the house Lee was adamant for the rest of the crew to be extremely careful with the ‘props’. The living room table, constructed of cherry wood cost around £15,500, the dining chairs are around £1,650 a piece, whilst a brass lamp accumulated to around over £10,000. Even down to the smallest detail, the rubbish bin used in the house was sourced from Germany and costed £1,800 – a sum that both Bong and all crew members were astounded at. Still, the rubbish bin was selected as Bong wanted a cinematic rubbish lid where he wanted it to open very smoothly and quietly close alike to a sort of computer graphic.
The film is an excellent story about class and has been successfully and brilliantly expressed through the architecture of the home. Although it may be a shame to know that such an intelligent and multi-purposeful design is only a stage set and not a property that exists now for an exorbitant amount of currency, it is wonderful to see that interior design and architecture can play such an integral role in the creative world of film and to convey important global issues such as such the disparity between the lives of the wealthy and those who live in poverty.