Maria Laura Polselli

The Parasite of Oxford Street

ARE ALL DEPARTMENT stores fated to become empty carcasses for a parasite to wear? This thesis explores the relationship between a historic ‘host’ (architecture) and its extrinsic interventions, finding architectural beauty in the notion of parasitic growth in a site-dominant intervention which acts as a catalyst to sustain human memories inside a structure that has decayed with time.

This adaptive reuse strategy challenges the nature of retail itself, presenting architecture as a sculpture to display and interact with, instead of just being a box containing goods to sell. To align architecture with this ‘biological’ reality, it investigates the relationship between the building and the visitor, using olfaction as a parameter through which to measure the design and presence of this parasitic development of the built environment.

The former House of Fraser is the setting for the birth of this ‘parasite’. Growing in crystal-like aggregations, it expands into the voids of the building, attaching to stair- lift cores and vertical elements. It overwhelms the original structure and creates a new organic being, a strange and compelling hybrid.

The first bone-like structure, based on a 3D voronoi pattern, are appended by a second layer of soft and light textiles with which the public interact. Through a hidden ventilation system, each voronoi module is pervaded with scents, creating an ethereal atmosphere. This secondary system prompts the visitor to smell, touch and hear, measuring the surroundings with their body.

Growing volumes within an existing shell, this new life form conquers Oxford Street and proliferates on an urban scale, provoking wonder, terror and incredulity. Ultimately turning into an inhabitable superstructure, these scented pathways create a new viability system, reanimating the city and beyond.

MORE is a part of Open Studio project run by the School of Architecture + Cities at the University of Westminster to make its design, research and practice-based work available online while it is happening.

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