Parasitic design is a nature-inspired concept that could possibly provide a solution for over-population, urbanisation and disaster management.

Most people have heard about biomimicry and biophilic cities, where architecture and designs mimic nature. Parasitic design is another nature-inspired concept that has recently made headlines.

Biological definition
Parasite: “In nature, a parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.” – Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
Parasitic relationship: “One in which one organism, the parasite, lives off another organism, the host, harming it and possibly causing death.” – New England Complex Systems Institute

Architectural definition
Parasitic architecture: “An adaptable, transient and exploitive form of architecture that forces relationships with host buildings in order to complete themselves. Parasites cannot sustain their own existence without siphoning energy from the surplus supply demonstrated in host buildings.” – Parasitic Architecture

While extensions are specifically designed for the original building, the parasitic structures seem quite alien when it comes to design and additionally cannot provide for themselves in terms of power, water and other amenities.
In recent years, designers from all over the world have been returning to the themes of mobility and flexibility, sometimes spiced with a touch of biomorphism or even bioprocessuality, in order to finally designate the mini-projects as parasites.

These themes, however, are nothing new. The basic motifs of parasitic architecture were explored avant la lettre and were first seen in experimental British architecture as early as the 1960s, according to For example, Archigram developed its Walking City, Living Pod and Instant City. Whereas the designs at the time were permeated with visionary euphoria, experimental pragmatism has now replaced belief in the future.

Frequently parasites are born out of double necessity: They serve young architects as training exercises and, at the same time, draw attention to undesirable states of affairs that actually exist.

According to Parasitism in Architecture, a parasitic design perspective “allows architecture to become more fluid, and enables architecture to respond faster to changes brought on by fluctuations in socio-economic and environmental pressures. The relationship between the parasite and the host thus adapt into a symbiotic dualism as the parasite no longer harms the host, and instead the separate entities prosper from the connection and the effects of the association.”
The paper states: “By integrating themselves in this manner, parasites question the traditional boundaries of architecture, and create a new understanding of the limitations of the built environment. Parasites redefine usable space and form new relationships that were not possible through traditional techniques of urban design. They create contemporary relationships that allow for further possibilities and opening. These openings are not merely limited to infrastructure, but can also manifest themselves within the host. These emerging possibilities were often not feasible within the previous existence of the host, and therefore the relationship between the parasite and its host becomes symbiotic.


”No matter how interrelated the two become and how successful a relationship blossoms, the two will always remain distinct from each other. The important element that needs to exist, in order for the two elements of opposition to coexist, is a buffer zone which can be used to create a common ground that the two can abide (for example a wall or facade).”

Emergency housing
These temporary housing add-ons present a solution to cramped living that is ideal for migration and disaster management. Parasitic architecture is also seen from the shelter is equal to housing perspective.

Designer Mike Reyes’ emergency homes are prefabricated, modular constructions that are meant to attach to the abandoned buildings and act as shelters for natural disaster survivors. It could also serve as an antidote to over-population. Reyes’ method of creating a community is like a parasite, they take ownership, re-purposing and aiding abandoned structures, providing resources, according to

“With an avant-garde approach and forward thinking, as a designer, my goal was to provide sustainable homes for the stranded survivors in all the overly populated megacities, for this project specifically São Paulo,” Reyes noted.

“Parasitic emergency homes can be implanted onto abandoned buildings.”

Office add-ons
Za Bor Architects designed a concept of a parasitic office hovering over ground to provide a pathway for people. Lara Calder Architects came with The Prefab Parasite, a concept of housing built on the existing buildings that have spare space, according to

Fittingly, the parasite will cling to old facades, rock faces and even bridges as a way to achieve sustainable densification. “Designed using parametric 3D modelling software, the form is a flexible entity as all components, such as the structural system, facade, cladding, floor levels and stairs are integrated into a sole parametric model. The integration of the design system increases efficiency and accuracy of the construction process,” states

Cubic convenience
Stefan Eberstadt’s Rucksak House is a concept of a house extension added to the side of the original building. Conceived as an extra room, the Rucksak House is a small, boxy, lightweight construction that is also mobile.

As mobile as a rucksack, this mini-house is intended to be an additional room that can be suspended from the facade of any residential building. With 9m2 of space, the Rucksack House is open and can be used for a variety of activities like an extra bedroom, studio space or a living area, according to
“Perched between art and architecture, form and function, the Rucksack House is a walk-in sculpture with its own spatial quality, a hovering illuminated space that looks like a cross between temporary scaffolding and minimal sculpture,” states

A viable solution
The difference between the “functionality” before and after the introduction of the parasitic structure is that the parasite is more receptive to change and is therefore better suited to the constant flux that defines the contemporary built environment.

Another important factor of nomadic parasitic architecture is that, unlike traditional architecture, infrastructure and services do not need to be created and installed into new parasitic instances.

Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to,,, and for providing the information to write this article.
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