Can you think of gaps in your city that seem overdue for creative reuse and exploitation? Many young designers and architects spot countless opportunities in today’s cityscapes: Below bridges, against walls, or on unused rooftops, they install so-called “parasitic structures,” designed to make creative use of existing architecture. We’ve compiled some of our favorite examples.

Lebrel: pop-up office below the bridge

To escape Valencia’s overcrowding and everyday hustle, Fernando Abellanas, designer at Lebrel, has built himself a place to get away from it all. The surprising location of his tiny refuge: right underneath a bridge. Last year, he constructed a floating office suspended below the carriageway, overshadowed by steel and concrete.

A crank moves Abellanas’ office to its location, while the wooden platform itself comes equipped with everything any self-respecting urban creative needs: a chair, a table, a cactus. And a gas lamp for those twilight hours. The result is a cozy retreat and perfect example of this niche-dwelling genre, yet also a well-kept secret: In the spirit of his temporary hermitage, Abellanas has declined to share the bridge’s actual location.

 

Framlab: a home for the poorest of the poor

Mirroring the situation in many countries around the world, growing urban populations and rising rents have put plenty of pressure on the US rental market. As a result, many people can no longer afford an apartment. In New York City alone, 60,000 unfortunates flock to emergency shelters every night. Architecture studio Framlab has made it its mission to rehouse these disenfranchised people.

hexagonal pods augment already exciting buildings
Already existing buildings in New York City are augmented by honeycomb-like clusters of pods.
Photo: Framlab

Their proposed solution: micro homes attached to existing building walls. And while the architects don’t consider their micro houses the ultimate solution to the city’s massive housing problem, it is definitely a thought-provoking move in the right direction.

micro homes in New York City
Micro homes offer a solution to the growing urban populations and rising rents.
Photo: Framlab

Malka Architecture: cubic extensions against CO₂

How do we make our shared house not only more attractive, but also more energy efficient? That’s what the residents of a 1970s apartment block in Paris wanted to know. French star architect Stéphane Malka, best known around the world for his striking guerrilla architecture, proposed an ingenious answer and solution.

Since the City of Paris prohibits adding more height or extra floors to existing structures, Malka decided to go horizontal: with wooden cube extensions and generous glass windows that make existing apartments larger and brighter. At the same time, the entire building becomes more energy-efficient – through a green façade and better exterior insulation. Another plus of Malka’s symbiotic structures: Each cube not only adds individually customizable living space, but also a pleasant roof garden for the upstairs neighbors.

green façades of a building in Paris by architect Stéphane Malka
Energy efficient, yet aesthetic: green façades by architect Stéphane Malka.
Photo: Malka Architecture

Dragonas Christopoulou Architects: above the rooftops of Athens

Cabins are the ultimate oases for stressed urbanites – or so a team at Greek architectural office Dragonas Christopoulou Architects thought when they came up with their “Urban Hut.” Designed to be built on an Athens rooftop, the 9-square-meter wooden cabin contains only the bare essentials for a successful urban retreat: a bed and a desk.

the micro home's interior includes only a bed and a desk
Minimalist retreat: a 9-square-meter wooden cabin.
Photo: Dragonas Christopoulou Architects

Plus plenty of peace and quiet coupled with a fantastic view of Athens’ city center. With their design, the architects most of all wanted to highlight and tackle the accelerating urban grown and globalization that threatens to conquer – and take over – even the smallest breathing space.

parasitic architecture: a minimalist micro home raised above the Athens rooftops
Escape the noise of the city in this micro home raised above the rooftops of Athens.
Photo: Dragonas Christopoulou Architects

 

The city thrives on your ideas. But before creating a parasitic structure as shown in this article, work with experts to clear all questions of your physical and legal safety.