A recent article published in The Guardian profiled the unusual studio of furniture designer Fernando Abellanas in Valencia, Spain. What is so unusual about Abellanas’ studio? Well, it hangs in the underbelly of a major overpass.


What Abellanas’ structure represents is an example of a new trend in ‘parasite architecture’, that is, self-constructed dwellings attached to existing public structures.


Abellanas’ studio is attached to the concrete pillar that supports the highway overhead. It is constructed of plywood boards and is fully detachable. It uses the beams of the bridge as rails, allowing the structure to slide on rollers from one side to the other. Inside, he has fashioned a desk, chair and shelves from metal tubes. The studio took Abellanas just two weeks to build once he had discovered the space.


Clearly, it’s not the quietest place to work, but Abellanas says he wasn’t actually looking for silence and peace. What he wanted, in fact, was a kind of childhood ‘hangout’, like a treehouse or cabin to hide away in without being seen.


Abellanas’ project is more about looking at the disused spaces in Valencia, rather than the social commentary aspect that obviously comes with the territory (as it were). Though no one has discovered it yet, Abellanas does expect that he will be ordered to dismantle his parasite studio at some point. Rents in Spain have risen 20.9% in the last year alone, but it is unlikely that the authorities will be sympathetic to this once they find Abellanas’ hideout.


London’s Parasite Architecture Projects


The designer is not alone, however. Parasite architecture is on the rise in cities across the globe. London has become a particular hub for the phenomenon. A boat above the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, the Blue House Yard in Wood Green, and the Antepavillion, a rooftop project on top of a building in east London created by the Architecture Foundation.


Each year, a new young architect is commissioned to build a structure in the space. This year, PUP Architects have put together an air-duct shaped structure.


It has become increasingly difficult in recent years for architects to realise their designs for public buildings, leading to a trend for low-cost, short-term projects that engage local communities in innovative new ways.


The aforementioned Blue House Yard is a good example of the community aspect of parasite architecture. It is a work and community space built on the site of a car park and abandoned office building.


Examples Further Afield


Residential wooden pods have been erected on Toronto’s CN tower, whilst Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata scatters his tree houses across the world, from New York parks to the Pompidou centre in Paris. One man even built a makeshift villa on top of a condominium in Beijing over the course of six years.


Many instances of parasite architecture are temporary, owing largely to the ‘illegality’ of their existence. Some, however, are projects that spring up in response to the crisis in property prices and availability.


Social Commentary and Guerilla Architecture


In 2015, for example, All(zone), a Bangkok architecture studio, erected micro-dwellings within abandoned towers. The units are made from plastic-laminated plywood and polyethylene-coated metal grids which also serve as shelving inside the structure.


“Recent housing projects are so closely tied up with global real estate investment that it’s almost impossible for a young middle-class or a new generation of urban poor to live in the city on what they earn,” the firm told Dezeen.


The unfinished high-rise buildings in which these dwellings are erected are those which have been abandoned as a result of either obsolete building systems or economic crashes. These are spaces often occupied by squatters. Projects like this make squatting a bit more pleasant, at least.


From squatters to the homeless. Architectural designer, James Furzer, aimed to set up Homes for the Homeless, a project in which lightweight pods were to be affixed to London buildings as overnight refuges for the city’s homeless. In each, a timber sleeping platform and fold-down seating, to provide free shelter and safety for those sleeping rough.


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In our modern world, with a growing population and skyrocketing real estate costs, parasite architecture offers a potential solution for those unable to climb the ladder. Though the concept hasn’t gained mainstream acceptance, it represents both a social commentary and guerilla act of defiance in the face of obstructive laws and regulations.


Architecture is a many-faceted discipline, which encompasses more than simply designing for the mainstream real estate market. It’s a creative pursuit, laden with ideas about social responsibility and the progression of society. Parasite architecture is one example of this mindset in action, a thought-provoking movement that challenges our received notions about the built environment.