American Building
American Building
May 24, 2023
Kenneth Namkung of Monument Office | Suburbanism Exhibit in New York City | The Origins of Mass Produced Housing
Play • 34 min

Due to the 1950 Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Administration loan programs, suburbs on Long Island and New Jersey were growing at 10 times the rate of downtown areas in New York City. Levittown in Nassau County is perhaps the most quintessential example of the outcome of those loan programs. 

Totaling 17,400 homes built on 4,000 acres of potato fields, Levittown was marketed as a safe, peaceful escape from the city. But, like most things that seem too good to be true, there was something nefarious behind-the-scenes: the loan programs had race-based underwriting guidelines and deed covenants that shut out BIPOC communities. Almost 75 years later, the boom of these cul-de-sac neighborhoods are at the root of many of the pressing urban planning issues we face today, including excessive traffic, housing affordability, racial discrimination, and the persistence of poverty. 

In this conversation with Kenneth Namkung, Founder of Monument Office and Senior Associate at Perkins Eastman, we explore the history of single family developments in the New York City area. We also dive into the details of his Suburbanism installation, designed for 32nd Street leading into Herald Square in Manhattan. 

The installation focuses on taking up negative space in an urban area and evoking the history and memory of the American suburb for those who previously lived there. Kenneth also discusses his inspiration for the design and reflects on the project as a Korean immigrant who grew up in a suburban area. We also touch on the impact of the American interstate system, redlining, and changes to tax codes in the 1980s, all of which all contributed to the creation of the American suburb we know today. 

About the Guest:

Kenneth is the founder and designer at Monument Office, a research and design firm based in Brooklyn, New York. His work focuses on the interplay between architecture, public space, and memory. Currently, he is a Senior Associate at Perkins Eastman. Previously, he was a Senior Project Designer for NBBJ design and worked at Studio Link-Arc, Ennead Architects, and Santiago Calatrava. He began his career at Rafael Viñoly Architects. He is a graduate of the School of Architecture at MIT and the University of Virginia. 

Topics Covered:

  • The rise of single family developments in the New York City area
  • The major influence of Levittown on housing 
  • Kenneth’s inspiration for the Suburbanism installation in Herald Square
  • Who lives in the American suburbs? 
  • How suburbs have transformed over time
  • Specific architecture types found in the American suburb 
  • Effects of the pandemic on suburban housing

Resources Mentioned: 

About Your Host

Atif Qadir is the Founder of Commonplace, a company dedicated to tackling one of the biggest barriers to more inclusive, affordable, and sustainable development: improving access to capital. Commonplace helps impact-driven developers and capital providers with shared values discover and connect with each other.

Connect with Kenneth Namkung 

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