Parasitic housing could become infectious

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Tiny homes built on other buildings an architectural option for crowded urban centres

The Province

Picture Toronto’s CN Tower covered in clusters of barnacle-like pods, extending upward on one of Canada’s most celebrated tourist attractions.

A 2017 conceptual proposal by Toronto architectural firm Quadrangle would see prefabricated wooden cubes clinging to the tower’s concrete, creating residential units of varying sizes and layouts, offering unparalleled views of the city and Lake Ontario.

As affordability grows as a concern in dense urban centres all over the world, so-called parasitic homes — those that latch onto, in between or inside existing structures — could become the way of the future.

Earlier this year, Ecuadorean firm El Sindicato built a little house of glass and steel on the rooftop of another building in the Quito neighbourhood of San Juan. It includes a bed, bathroom, kitchen, storage space and living space in 12 square metres.

Marc Richard, a freelance graphic designer, lives in a similarly sized shed within a decommissioned factory in the Battersea district of London. For Richard, the experience has made him rethink the future of city living and the idea of home.

“Things could be on wheels, like the shed, or you could have flexible spaces, adaptable spaces, perhaps buildings which are modular and you could shrink them down when you need to,” Richard told the BBC.

While expanding on available external or internal space of buildings is not new, parasitic additions contrast deliberately from their host structures by purposefully introducing different colours, materials and styles to stand out.

“This is what the idea of parasiting the city is about,” said Teresa Bardzinska-Bonenberg, an architectural historian at Poland’s University of Arts in Poznan.

“People have now much more inspiration, materials, tools and courage to express themselves.”

She said as more and more city structures earn heritage designations and become exempt from alterations, less space is available for affordable housing, which means architects have to get creative.

While the CN Tower isn’t in danger of becoming a makeshift condo any time soon, one can only imagine what the future of modular housing will look like for Canada’s growing urban centres.

And what a small wooden box attached to the side of a building in Toronto would cost.

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