Could offices that clamp onto larger buildings or wander across town be the wave of the future?

In the future, commercial real estate in a severely built-up city might not move outward or upward but in between, or all around.

That's the idea behind these unconventional designs for urban offices, meant to survive in an expensive marketplace by exploiting unoccupied nooks and crannies in the urban environment. First, have a look at this concept for a "Parasite Office," a creation of Russia's Za Bor Architects (you win a prize if you can figure out how to work their website):

In Moscow, it's common for two buildings to have blind walls facing each other over a wide alley. This setup provides the perfect space for a lithe, little office to build itself a perch. The structure fuses onto the neighboring buildings with steel clamps, hovering off the ground so pedestrians can stroll under it. It also glows at night, thanks to a translucent plastic shell, looking like a wasps' nest from hell.

With three stories and a rooftop, this design is more spacious than at first it may seem. It could be an attractive option for creative start-ups looking to stand out from the pack. The unusual positioning of the parasite could even allow, in some cutthroat dystopian world, for the people inside to jackhammer into its host buildings and steal their best employees. It would be easy to entice them with sweet office decor like this:

Then there's the new headquarters of architectural firm Daiken-Met, located in the central Japanese city of Gifu. This "Sugoroku Office" proves that folks in Japan know as much as anyone about living in expensive, overbuilt cities:

The workspace is actually composed of 20-foot train cars jammed into a Jenga tower of productivity. Its modular design allows a crew to swiftly deconstruct it and truck the pieces across town where the rents might be cheaper. By taking advantage of temporary, low-cost leases, the Sugoroku Office is sort of the couch surfer of modern commercial architecture, squatting on empty street corners and in barren parking lots and in the process saving loads of cash to buy beer.

Here's Inhabitat's Bridgette Meinhold on the origins of the movable office:

As Daiken-Met Architects told us, “In the local city, we are facing various problems such as decreasing population, increasing vacant land, on the other hand it is difficult to make a rental contract for small buildings.” Because of this, they decided to build their own office and obtained a short-term rental contract for a small parcel of land where they could set up their temporary office. As part of their lease agreement, they proposed an architectural design and agreed to remove and reconstruct it every few years.

The Sugoroku Office is built from seven stacked shipping containers on three levels with two spaces left open for balconies. A mobile steel frame serves as the foundation – it provides support for the containers while reducing the structural load placed on them. Circulation routes are installed on the outside of the containers to provide access all the way up to the 3rd floor. The frame and containers can easily be dismantled, removed and rebuilt whenever necessary. The interiors of the containers are finished with used plywood or packing bands from a construction site.

With seven cars stacked in a three-story pile, the Sugoroku Office requires a steel frame to rest on so it doesn't collapse in a heap. Employees can access different levels of the office via balconies and stairways lining the sides of the structure, which has not been altered much to disguise its former home on the train tracks. From the outside, the structure might look like a fort built by railyard hobos, but inside things aren't too shabby:

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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