Inflatable Shelters Capture Building Heat To Keep The Homeless Warm [Pics]

Inflatable Shelters Capture Building Heat To Keep The Homeless Warm [Pics]

The paraSITE collects excess HVAC air to provide a heated shelter from dangerous cold weather.

Ryan Gerhardt
  • 6 march 2014

With bitterly cold weather still gripping much of the U.S., many people are trying to spend as little time outdoors as possible. For the homeless, this is nearly impossible.

Harsh winters pose serious risks, including death, to many of the nation’s homeless, but many avoid shelter systems out of fear of violence and disease. Artist Michael Rakowitz’s low-cost, inflatable shelters provide an ingenious and temporary solution.

The paraSITE is designed to harness the excess heat from HVAC systems of urban buildings, recycling the air as usable warmth. The non-invasive structures are composed of garbage bags and clear plastic Ziploc bags sealed with tape or a heat sealer, costing less than $5 each.

The paraSITE shelter design applies aspects of Bedouin tents, built to accommodate wind patterns, to an urban setting. Rakowitz has been redirecting wasted heat and building paraSITE shelters for the past 17 years, creating the first for a man in Cambridge, Massachusetts while a student at MIT. Since, Rakowitz has created upwards of 60 shelters in the cities he’s lived.


Initially built with black garbage bags, Rakowitz soon crafted his paraSITE shelters out of clear plastic to increase security by allowing the inhabitants to see potential attackers. This has also allowed for customization of the structures, meeting the needs of each person. “A project about architecture also became about portraiture,” Rakowitz told FastCo.Exist. “I attempted to give them some visibility and dignity.”

Part of the challenge still lies in avoiding potential policy concerns such as restrictions on the height of street structures and illegal encampments. Customization helps skirt these issues on a case-by-case basis, while improved production methods, including the use of a heat sealer, are helping cut costs.

Now living in Chicago, Rakowitz plans to spread paraSITE shelters there next winter. He has already provided Anonymous group #OpSafeWinter with do-it-yourself designs to be published in homeless newspapers, helping increase accessibility.

“There isn’t a law that tells you what you can do with recycled air,” Rakowitz said. Check out the designs below to see what he is doing with it to make a difference.

Michael Rakowitz

Sources: FastCo.Exist

Images: FastCo.Exist

+Environmental / Green

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