Cement fills our cities. Buildings, bridges and walkways find their way into our line of sight at some point during the day. Yet these expansive examples of infrastructure can be reimagined and used beyond their intended purpose. A new breed of urban creatives has initiated and encouraged a fresh trend in architectural design - one that seeks to make existing concrete structures even more usable than their original applications.
Fernando Abellanas, a Spanish former plumber, self-taught designer and founder of the product and furniture design project Lebrel, has installed his own secret studio underneath a bridge in Valencia. The concrete forms three of the studio’s walls as well as its roof, while Abellanas has used timber and metal to construct the remainder of the workspace, which moves thanks to two concrete beams that double as runners for a set of wheels installed by the designer.
Abellanas’ inspiration for building this studio, which also allows for night-time habitation, is his fascination with neglected spaces. He explains, "I feel a great attraction for this type of place and sometimes I make interventions in them. I depend a lot on the conditions offered by the place." He goes on to say, "It is a personal intervention that tries to put value in these types of spaces.”
The studio is an example of parasitic architecture. Structures that fall into this category are built against or onto, and therefore ‘depend on’, existing infrastructure. What makes this kind of architecture particularly promising is its function as a shelter for the homeless, and it’s this very function that has inspired numerous designers.
In 2015, architectural technician James Furzer devised a shelter that would hang off the sides of existing building. This was part of Homes for the Homeless, Furzer’s very own campaign, which sought to provide temporary accommodation for London’s homeless.
Then, in 2016, French architect Stéphane Malka, along with his studio, began building living spaces that would lean on or extend from existing Parisian buildings. Malka stated, “The idea is working against the urban sprawl that kills our social links. It’s also a contemporary way to discover new perspectives of a city. We have accessed a new Paris above the horizon.”
Solid structures made with the aid of cement don’t have to fulfil one purpose. The aforementioned projects, and others like them, are clear evidence of this.
Photography: Jose Manuel Pedrajas