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Plastics made it possible to create lighter, more durable, and more affordable products.

paraSITE homeless shelter

Michael Rakowitz
(American, born 1973)

1997. Polyethylene, 42" x 36" x 11' (107 x 91.5 x 335 cm)

Like a parasite, this temporary and transportable shelter for the homeless is dependent on a host, in this case the outtake duct of a building’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) system. In 1997 Rakowitz proposed a prototype of this shelter to Bill Stone, a homeless man in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time, city officials were installing tilted grates over air vents in Harvard Square so that homeless people could not sleep on them. Rakowitz created the first paraSITE homeless shelter from discarded materials, including Ziploc bags and packing tape. Now it is made of polyethylene, a common type of plastic. He has custom-made 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.

Michael Rackowitz, “paraSITE,”

One of the most common forms of plastic known for being tough, light, and flexible. Made of synthetic materials, polyethylene is commonly used in plastic bags, food containers, and other packaging.

An early sample built to test a concept or process.

Shelter as Social Protest
When paraSITE was first introduced, many of the users of saw it as a from of social protest shouting slogans like, “We beat you, Uncle Sam!”1

Design Meets Policy
Michael Rakowitz envisioned his design as something that ideally would become obsolete. “These shelters should disappear like the problem should,” Rakowitz has said. “In this case, the real designers are the policymakers.”2