The Death and Life of Great American Houses: Kyong Park on Detroit and 24260 Fugitive House
By Martina Dolejsova
Kyong Park has long been a critic of architecture, urban environments, and the role that buildings play in the development of cities. As such, he is drawn to the perplexities of urban battles with issues of blight, economic survival, and growth. Park is drawn from one place to another to research endemic conditions and to inquire how architecture and development affect American and European cities, meanwhile producing commentary on his findings through his art and exhibitions. We met at a Los Angeles café to chat about Detroit and his project 24260 Fugitive House.
Park’s personal path follows a belief that he applies to urban environments: “Movement is the key to economics and the survival of a city.“ Park lives periodically in Los Angeles, but his ‘home’ is located in San Diego. Before arriving in San Diego, Park lived in New York, Detroit, and multiple cities throughout Europe. As the founder for New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture—a forum and exhibition space, which opened in 1982 and investigates intersections of architecture, art, and design—his influence on discourse is unmistakable. While at Storefront, he led exhibitions that commented on art and architecture culture in New York and beyond.
In 1998, he moved to Detroit—a city in flux—and opened the International Center for Urban Ecology (ICUE), a nomadic practice and research entity. While there, his research instigated urban-based social projects and dialogs focused on the economics, politics, and architecture of the city. Park lived in Detroit from 1998 to 2001, in a small house of wood siding with the street number 24260. By the year 2000, the urban population had dipped under one million residents. The simple one-story house of 24260 existed in a neighborhood where surrounding buildings were being abandoned and/or burnt as people departed for the suburbs. Park’s project 24260 Fugitive House has been an exploration into the nature of Detroit as a “white flight” city, as well as the destruction and devaluation of homes. House 24260 needed to escape before it was next.
“In order for the house to live, it needed to move,” Park tells me. Cut into seven pieces, each roughly 20 x 25 x 16 feet, 24260 Fugitive House traveled to various European locations between 2001 and 2008, first to the 3rd Annual Archilab exhibition in Orléans, France in April 2001.
Each house section was reassembled and reproduced on a makeshift wood foundation. The front and side walls were composed of exterior white siding, while the back wall was made of an unfinished interior wall wood decking. The framing for the window and door openings were punctures in the walls, with the physical door and glass no longer there. A traditional ridged roof was mounted on top of the walls, its grey shingles missing in patches. Pieces of the wall were also missing, exposing the internal architectural structure.
In comparison to the aesthetic cutaways of artist Gordon Matta-Clark, Park’s exposure of structure is more raw, like the disheveled appearance of a long distance traveler. Yet both artists use architecture as a platform for commentary on blighted areas. The result is somewhere between architecture, sculpture, and a portrait of society as a whole.
Matta-Clark, when interviewed regarding his work Splitting (1974) in Englewood, New Jersey, explained, “What we (are) understanding as building or see as the urban landscape is just this, sort of, middle zone.”1 The architectural shell of a house leftover after its inhabitants move represents the struggles of an American neighborhood trying to survive oncoming economic disparity.
Park’s house eventually traveled to Sindelfinger and Hamburg (Germany), The Hague (The Netherlands), Karlsruhe and Desseu (Germany), Sheffields and London (England) and ended in Dortmund (Germany), totaling nine different European locations. Like a fugitive, it went where it was welcomed. By 2008—whether the exhibition schedule was a reflection of the global economic collapse or simply the end of its wandering ways—24260 retired from its long lifespan on the road.
By 2007, Park had returned to the United States to teach in the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego. With a new home in one of California’s leading art departments, Park shipped the pieces of 24260 back to San Diego. The sections of different wood that once made its exterior are fragmented and have been placed in storage.
In the past few years, Park has returned to see Detroit. “There is a big change” from when he lived there, Park says. “The city is reimagining itself. It has legs and is no longer shrinking, but growing.” Park speculated that the city, in theoretical economic terms, must be on the up-cycle of a Kondratiev wave. 24260 had been a physical and philosophical manifestation of the lifecycles of architecture within urban development, and Detroit’s revival has stirred Park with thoughts of the artwork’s reemergence.
Detroit is currently repopulating itself with artists and a younger, middle-class generation. Park has been ruminating on the return of 24260 Fugitive House to Detroit as a new type of structure. “After the fruitless expedition to find a new ‘home,’ I began to realize that it was not the question of a different place of existence, but rather a different form of existence that could give it a function and value to society.”
Artist Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, a suburban home brought into the city in 2010, is a social commentary and has also been used as a community space. But Kelley’s is a cautionary tale; in the artist’s words, public work is “a pleasure that is forced upon a public that, in most cases, finds no pleasure in it.”2 Kelley’s own perverse attitude towards its success—is telling of the city’s determined struggle to survive. Kelley posited, at the time of Detroit’s recent dark moments, “the work could become just another ruin in a city full of ruins.” As to this prediction, only time will tell.
Park is still considering what form 24260 Fugitive House will take when it reemerges in the city that birthed it, a city that until recently seemed bankrupt and in its death throws. One of his proposals has been to rebuild 24260 as a pavilion, giving it a new purpose as a lecture house and educational space. It could be an example and way to educate the audience of what it is like to be an American economic refugee, the loss it entails, and what it means to eventually return home.
Martina Dolejsova is an architecture and design writer, who is currently focusing on research in landscape infrastructure and social experiences. She has worked with the experimental ponderings of architectural installations at Extension Gallery in Chicago, as well as Materials & Applications and Ball-Nogues Studio in Los Angeles. She writes for Artillery Magazine among other publications.
1 Thomas Crow, Gordon Matta-Clark (London and New York: Phaidon). 84.