Parasite Trip

Young Italian collective Parasite 2.0's latest project materialises in a series of installations from Milan to Venice, occupying spectacular catastrophes of Italian architecture from the Renaissance to the present.

By all conventional accounts, the Italian context for architectural education presents its numerous students with a paradox of applied practice. While the academic curriculum decrees a focus on almost dogmatic pragmatism in design, new graduates enter a reality that offers limited opportunities to use their technical knowledge; as trainees, they have gained a respectable level of utility, but the sphere of construction has little place for them. One year after graduating, only 10% will have found permanent employment within a larger firm, and nearly 20% will have never worked at all. In fact, it is only by the age of 40 that the typical architect will approach a proportionate share of the volume of building work in Italy — for comparison, in the rest of the Europe this happens at 30 years of age — and at age 60, they will have nearly double their equal share of projects.

This scenario implies that, by the time they begin to make real interventions into the built environment, Italian architects must be firmly ensconced in a highly bureaucratic (even baldly nepotistic) and commodified position of networked power. It is little wonder, then, that the large public works of the present time hold far more interest from a political and financial perspective than from any architectural or urban quality. One such project is Milan's Porta Nuova development area, one of the largest sites for new planning and construction in Europe, which proceeds (albeit with plenty of legislative and logistical stalls) at the expense of the fine-grained existing context, with little input from the local community. In the shadows of the towers being raised at Porta Garibaldi, however, a small group of architecture students is plotting a different mode of creation, in subtle protest against the prevailing conditions of both academia and conventional architectural construction.

Parasite 2.0 , a collective of 23-year-old students from the Milan Polytechnic , was borne out of frustration with the removed, yet simultaneously unimaginative, nature of university projects. Their first work took the form of a humble experiment during the 2010 Salone del Mobile: a domestic setting of table and two chairs was installed in a neglected alcove beside the bridge over the Porta Genova train tracks, highlighting the fair's general disregard for public space in place of naked commercialism.
Top: Parasite 2.0 has colonised abandoned buildings, including the fort of the Sant'Andrea island in the Venetian lagoon, with luminescent, room-sized inflatables, sprouting arm-like growths into empty space. Above: Another approach is a free-form structural web made of stretched polyethylene, implemented at Aldo Rossi's unused San Cristoforo station in Milan
Top: Parasite 2.0 has colonised abandoned buildings, including the fort of the Sant'Andrea island in the Venetian lagoon, with luminescent, room-sized inflatables, sprouting arm-like growths into empty space. Above: Another approach is a free-form structural web made of stretched polyethylene, implemented at Aldo Rossi's unused San Cristoforo station in Milan
Since then, the collective has established a robust methodology of work, tested in multiple sites from Sicily to Venice. Each intervention is determined by a set of flexible parameters: the size depends on the number of participants and the available amount of time, the setting on field research into abandoned yet accessible sites, and the typology on the imagined outcome for the use of public space. Once the work is finished, the group leave it in place to be used or simply observed by curious passers-by.
Luminescent inflatables at the fort of Sant'Andrea island
Luminescent inflatables at the fort of Sant'Andrea island
The history of architectural modernism is rife with such breakaway movements, from Archigram and Haus-Rucker-Co to Italy's own Superstudio . These avant-garde groups had, perhaps, a different kind of motivation: their context was the ideological proliferation of post-war social architecture in a time of apparent material abundance, and therefore their work had little need for actual materialisation in order to generate critique. Many of their projects existed as visionary paper architecture rather than real buildings, at no cost to their legacy as architects.
Parasite 2.0 defines its context as post-crisis architecture, imagining a "primitive future" that feeds voraciously upon the vestiges of the old world
A stretched polyethylene web at Milan's unused San Cristoforo station
A stretched polyethylene web at Milan's unused San Cristoforo station
Parasite 2.0, on the other hand, defines its context as post-crisis architecture, imagining a "primitive future" that feeds voraciously upon the vestiges of the old world. For the members of the collective, occupying the threshold of the realm of possibility, such a conjecture demands real manifestations of constructive activity rather than radical images. This is unsurprising, given the extent to which current rendering technology has been subsumed into the infrastructure of commercial speculation. In the same vein, Parasite 2.0 shuns the advanced technology of contemporary architecture, which excludes the vast majority of people from any kind of participation; instead, they advocate a form of "ignorant craft" using cheap or found materials that allow for in-situ improvisation and responsiveness to place.
Luminescent inflatables at Vittoriano Viganò's Istituto Marchiondi Spagliardi
Luminescent inflatables at Vittoriano Viganò's Istituto Marchiondi Spagliardi
Parasite Trip , their latest work, was initiated as part of the Grand Tour , a collection of projects curated by Stefano Mirti for the latest Venice Architecture Biennale . When they were informed at the last minute that their work would have to be drastically scaled down to get permission from the Italian pavilion, they did not abandon the project; they simply relocated their installations to their natural environment — public space — and executed them in the dead of night, without the rigmarole of securing official authorisation. These installations comprise a journey from Milan to Venice, occupying spectacular catastrophes of Italian architecture from the Renaissance to the present.
Luminescent inflatables at the fort of Sant'Andrea island
Luminescent inflatables at the fort of Sant'Andrea island
One approach is a free-form structural web made of stretched polyethylene, implemented at Aldo Rossi's unused San Cristoforo station in Milan, as well as on the columns of Venice's San Francesco della Vigna church. The group has also colonised abandoned buildings, including Vittoriano Viganò's Istituto Marchiondi Spagliardi and the fort of the Sant'Andrea island in the Venetian lagoon, with luminescent, room-sized inflatables, sprouting arm-like growths into empty space. Finally, the collective has pioneered a new typology in Porto Marghera: from the depths of an old aluminium factory, a breath of coloured smoke emerges, the instantaneous expression of the "spirit" of a living edifice. In parallel with these diverse constructions, the group has also released a cartoon manifesto, featuring the drawings of the artist called "3", that visualises their foundational ethos and tactics.
The collective has pioneered a new typology in Porto Marghera: from the depths of an old aluminium factory, a breath of coloured smoke emerges, the instantaneous expression of the "spirit" of a living edifice
The collective has pioneered a new typology in Porto Marghera: from the depths of an old aluminium factory, a breath of coloured smoke emerges, the instantaneous expression of the "spirit" of a living edifice
As Parasite 2.0 has developed an expressive language, it has built a stirring challenge to the Italian architectural community, as well as the wider public. Judging by their brief encounters with the police, the notion of a spatial cancer or a constructive dependent still lies beyond what the average viewer would accept as architecture. But if the establishment continues to deny Italy's youth a point of entry through the normal channels, they will inevitably find a back alley into the active shaping of the built environment. Tamar Shafrir (@tamars)
Coloured smoke in Porto Marghera
Coloured smoke in Porto Marghera
Parasite Trip was completed in collaboration with IRA-C (Interaction Research and Architecture in a Crisis Context).
A stretched polyethylene web in Venice's San Francesco della Vigna church
A stretched polyethylene web in Venice's San Francesco della Vigna church

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