"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.
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.