Michael Rakowitz paraSITE homeless shelter 1997

  • Not on view

"Parasitism is described as a relationship in which a parasite temporarily or permanently exploits the energy of a host," Rakowitz says, in introducing paraSITE. This temporary and transportable shelter for the homeless is dependent on the outtake duct of a building's heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system for its form and source of heat. paraSITE is a conspicuous social protest, not a long-term solution to homelessness. "It is very much an intervention that should become obsolete," Rakowitz says. "These shelters should disappear like the problem should. In this case, the real designers are the policymakers."

Gallery label from Born out of Necessity, March 2, 2012–January 28, 2013.
Additional text

Like a parasite, this temporary and transportable shelter for the homeless is dependent on a host: the outtake duct of another building’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) system. Following a conversation with a homeless man, Rakowitz created the first paraSITE homeless shelter from discarded materials, including Ziploc bags and packing tape. He has turned this radical take on temporary, emergency urban refuge into a cottage industry, custom making dozens of similar shelters that are in use in several East Coast cities. They cost approximately five dollars to make and are provided free of charge. ParaSITE is a conspicuous social protest, not a long-term solution to homelessness: “These shelters should disappear like the problem should,” Rakowitz has said. “In this case, the real designers are the policymakers.”

Gallery label from 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, September 12, 2012–March 25, 2013.

Michael Rakowitz addresses history, current events, and pressing social problems with his art. With his paraSITE homeless shelters, he aims to offer some relief to people living in the streets and to agitate for policy changes that would permanently solve the problem of homelessness. Each shelter is custom-made, and the design process begins with a conversation between the artist and the occupant. One occupant was an avid science-fiction fan, who requested that his shelter be shaped like Jabba the Hutt. Another wanted plenty of windows so that he could remain vigilant against potential attackers. After finalizing the design, Rakowitz builds the structure out of materials including Ziploc bags, packing tape, and, for his later models, sheets of polyethylene, a common plastic valued for its toughness, lightness, and flexibility. Like parasites in nature (including certain plants, insects, and fish), the paraSITE shelters need resources extracted from an external source in order to function. They attach to the air outtake ducts of buildings, which serve as the “host” from which they derive the warm air that heats and inflates them.

Michael Rakowitz
42" x 36" x 11' (107 x 91.5 x 335 cm)
Gift of Michael Rakowitz and Lombard-Freid Projects
Object number
Architecture and Design

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].