Despite the biting cold, many homeless are hesitant to head to shelters, fearing the rampant violence and disease in these homes more than the freezing temperatures outside. Resorting to creative means of survival is therefore a necessity, and perhaps one of the more creative solutions is being offered by artist Michael Rakowitz.
The artist's deceptively cute inflatable structures, called paraSITE, are actually guerrilla shelters that symbiotically latch onto vents from HVAC systems. The captured air not only gives structure to the shelters, but also heats the surrounding plastic tubing. This system provides much-needed warmth to those living within, without allowing the recycled air to enter the occupied space. Rakowitz has been making these ad-hoc homes for the past 17 years, customizing designs for the urban nomads he meets in myriad cities.
All images via FastCo.Exist.
Costing no more than five dollars each, the structures are constructed from plastic attached with tape or heat sealer. Although the original designs were created from black garbage bags, the homeless voiced concern over safety due to lack of visibility, and so a more transparent plastic, often reclaimed from Ziploc bags, is now used instead.
The "built-to-code" inflatable sleeping bag for the New York streets.
“A project about architecture also became about portraiture,” Rakowitz told FastCo.Exist. “I attempted to give them some visibility and dignity.” Each shelter design conformed to the individual needs of the inhabitant, adding room and changing shape when needed. New York City’s policy, for instance, does not allow structures over a certain height in the streets, so Rakowitz conceived an 18-inch-high inflatable sleeping bag as an alternative. The homeless don't fail to see the humor in the inflatables—Rakowitz has received requests for shelters in the form of Jabba the Hut as well as a giant rib cage.
As per the owner's request, this shelter was designed to look like a rib cage.
Having recently moved to Chicago, Rakowitz plans on setting up paraSITE shelters in the city next winter. In the meantime, he is collaborating with Anonymous' #OpSafeWinter initiative to bring the paraSITE shelters to those most in need.