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Parasitic Architecture is Not What it Seems

The concept is attractive. Taking advantage of an existing superstructure and utility conduits, developers can simply add new units on the sides and top of a residential building. In theory, this can save money, preserve the original building and create new housing in areas where housing tends to be in short supply and high demand.

In practice, parasitic architecture often ends up being a controversial aesthetic experiment, wherein buildings of historic value have their exterior facades debased – or enhanced, depending on who you ask – with odd protuberances. Or it finds expression in “adaptive reuse” projects that rely on public subsidies to create overly expensive additional housing units.

A classic example of parasitic architecture blazing a path into the aesthetic frontier of urban design is the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. In this case, a 135-year-old stone building had grafted onto its square, classical façade a massive steel and glass triangle that juts skyward like the prow of a ship. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. A Wall Street Journal architecture critic compared the new section to “a piece of shrapnel freshly fallen from the sky.”

Enthusiasts proclaim the beauty is in the incongruity, but the practice has many detractors. During the 1980s, architects saved the facades of many historic Washington, D.C. downtown offices and built superstructures behind them – spurring critics to refer to them as “facade-omies.”

There are plentiful examples of historic public buildings expanded with ultra-modern structures. The Pablo Serrano Museum was […] Read More