Rooftop 'Parasite' Homes Could be the Future of Affordable Housing in Paris

No, really.

Image Stéphane Malka Architecture
Stéphane Malka Architecture

Rooftop “parasite homes” might just be an answer to Paris’s affordable housing drought—at least that’s the hope of developers behind the 3BOX project about to begin construction.

The three upcoming apartments, just off the canal near the city’s Quai de Valmy, have found an ingenious way of freeing up more space in a densely built city: they’re perched on top of existing buildings. As a result, the developers hope the homes will ultimately sell at 40 percent less than the area’s market price.

Looking vaguely like steel and glass reptiles that have scaled a wall to bask in the sun, these new apartments might come as a shock inserted into the historic fabric of Paris (albeit a somewhat humdrum corner of it). But if the officially sponsored developers of the new apartments get their way, this project could be just the beginning.

(Stéphane Malka Architecture)

The project is the brainchild of Stéphane Malka Architecture, working with a promising new social enterprise called Les Toits Du Monde (“Roofs of the World”). The organization is working in the context of Paris’s new property law, called the Loi ALUR, which has set a target of 70,000 new dwellings per year and introduced rent-stabilization. These new apartments will have to go somewhere, and while Paris still has brownfield sites—many of which have been offered by France’s rail company, SNCF—some creative thinking is also in order to free up as much space as possible. Accordingly, the Loi ALUR has also relaxed some planning laws, allowing extra construction on rooftop sites.

The role of Les Toits du Monde is to sniff out such sites and develop them with a new funding model. Any building owner with a potentially suitable rooftop can apply to the organization’s team of planners, lawyers, architects, and property managers, who can help grease the wheels of development. If the site is suitable, the owner isn’t necessarily given money, however. Instead, he or she surrenders their rooftop in return for substantial renovations, such as façade repairs, better insulation, or new lifts.

This arrangement enables Les Toits Du Monde to keep costs low, as does the development’s structure, which uses prefabricated units that are constructed off-site in a workshop then bolted into steel supports. When completed in eight-to-12 months time, the three apartments at 3BOX will have cost €680,000 ($738,500) to build total, which isn’t bad for a prime inner city site.

(Stéphane Malka Architecture)

The three slim rectangles inserted into an otherwise 19th-century cityscape might not suit everyone’s architectural taste. But in renderings, at least, the apartments look singularly attractive, not least because of their standard-issue rendering-friendly cap of dense rooftop greenery. Interest in these unusually good value apartments has already gone through the roof (so to speak). So enthusiastic is the response, the architects tell CityLab, that applications to get on the list to buy one of the apartments have already gone crazy even though it may be a year until they’re actually finished.

Toits du Monde has several similar projects in the pipeline, so next time you’re in Paris, don’t be surprised if you look up sometime to find a contemporary prefab bolted onto a historic roof.

About the Author

  • Feargus O'Sullivan is a London-based contributing writer to CityLab, with a focus on Europe.