IS DESCRIBED AS A RELATIONSHIP IN WHICH A PARASITE TEMPORARILY
OR PERMANENTLY EXPLOITS THE ENERGY OF A HOST.1
paraSITE proposes the appropriation of the exterior ventilation systems on existing
architecture as a means for providing temporary shelter for
PARASITES LIVE ON THE OUTER SURFACE OF A HOST OR INSIDE ITS
BODY IN RESPIRATORY ORGANS, DIGESTIVE ORGANS, VENOUS SYSTEMS,
AS WELL AS OTHER ORGANS AND TISSUES.2
The paraSITE units in their idle state exist as small, collapsible packages with handles
for transport by hand or on one's back. In employing this device,
the user must locate the outtake ducts of a building's HVAC
(Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) system.
FREQUENTLY A HOST PROVIDES A PARASITE NOT ONLY WITH FOOD, BUT ALSO WITH
ENZYMES AND OXYGEN, AND OFFERS FAVOURABLE TEMPERATURE CONDITIONS.3
The intake tube of the collapsed structure is then attached
to the vent. The warm air leaving the building simultaneously
inflates and heats the double membrane structure.
BUT A HOST IS CERTAINLY NOT INACTIVE AGAINST A PARASITE, AND IT HINDERS
THE DEVELOPMENT AND POPULATION GROWTH OF PARASITES WITH DIFFERENT
DEFENSE MECHANISMS, SUCH AS THE CLEANING OF SKIN, PERISTALTIC
CONTRACTION OF THE DIGESTIVE APARATUS, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF
In April of 1997, I proposed my concept and first
prototype to a homeless man named Bill Stone, who regarded the
project as a tactical response. At the time, the city of Cambridge
had made a series of vents in Harvard Square "homeless-proof"
by tilting the metal grates, making them virtually impossible
to sleep on. In his book, City of Quartz, Mike Davis describes
a similar war on homelessness in Los Angeles. He lists a series
of these hindrances throughout the city. "One of the most common,
but mind-numbing, of these deterrents is the Rapid Transit District's
new barrelshaped bus bench that offers a minimal surface for
uncomfortable sitting, while making sleeping utterly impossible.
Such bumproof benches are being widely introduced on the periphery
of Skid Row. Another invention, worthy of the Grand Guignol,
is the aggressive deployment of outdoor sprinklers. Several
years ago the city opened a 'Skid Row Park' along lower Fifth
Street, on a corner of Hell. To ensure that the park was not
used for sleeping - that is to say, to guarantee that it was
mainly utilized for drug dealing and prostitution - the city
installed an elaborate overhead sprinkler system programmed
to drench unsuspecting sleepers at random during the night.
The system was immediately copied by some local businessmen
in order to drive the homeless away from adjacent public sidewalks.
Meanwhile restaurants and markets have responded to the homeless
by building ornate enclosures to protect their refuse. Although
no one in Los Angeles has yet proposed adding cyanide to the
garbage, as happened in Phoenix a few years back, one popular
seafood restaurant has spent $12,000 to build the ultimate bag-lady-proof
trash cage: made of three-quarter inch steel rod with alloy
locks and vicious outturned spikes to safeguard priceless moldering
fishheads and stale french fries".5
PARASITES RESPOND TO THIS DEFENSE BY ANCHORING THEMSELVES WITH HOOKS AND SUCKERS ONTO
SKIN, OR DIGESTIVE MUCOUS MEMBRANE, AND BY DEVELOPING PROTECTIVE
DEVICES AND SUBSTANCES WHICH LESSEN DEFENSIVE CAPABILITIES OF
The system by which the device attaches or is anchored
to the building is designed to allow the structure to be adaptable.
The intake tube can be expanded or tightened to fit the aperture
of the vent through an adjustable lip made possible by elastic
draw-strings. Hooks are attached to the metal louvers for reinforcement.
THERE IS "TENSION" BETWEEN A HOST AND ITS PARASITE, SINCE THE
HOST ENDEAVOURS TO GET RID OF THE FOREIGN BODY, WHILE THE PARASITE
EMPLOYS NEW WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE CONNECTION WITH THE HOST.7
The connection of the inflatable structure to the building becomes
the critical moment of this project.
Since February 1998, over thirty prototypes of the paraSITE shelter have been
custom built and distributed them to homeless individuals in
Cambridge, Boston, New York, and Baltimore. All were built using
temporary materials that were readily available on the streets,
such as plastic bags and tape.
While these shelters were being used, they functioned not only
as a temporary place of retreat, but also as a station of dissent
and empowerment; many of the homeless users regarded their shelters
as a protest device, and would even shout slogans like "We beat
you Uncle Sam!" The shelters communicated a refusal to surrender,
and made more visible the unacceptable circumstances of homeless
life within the city.
For the pedestrian, paraSITE functioned
as an agitational device. The visibly parasitic relationship
of these devices to the buildings, appropriating a readily available
situation with readily available materials elicited immediate
speculation as to the future of the city: would these things
completely take over, given the enormous number of homeless
in our society? Could we wake up one morning to find these encampments
engulfing buildings like ivy?
This project does not present itself as
a solution. It is not a proposal for affordable housing. Its
point of departure is to present a symbolic strategy of survival
for homeless existence within the city, amplifying the problematic
relationship between those who have homes and those who do not
The issue of homelessness is of global proportions
and it is foolish to think that any one proposition will address
all the issues associated with this problem. There are many
different types of homeless people. The mentally ill, the chemically
dependent, those who are unable to afford housing, men, women,
families, even those who prefer this way of life are included
among the vast cross section of homeless people in every urban
instance. Each group of homeless has subjective needs based
on circumstance and location. My project does not make reference
to handbooks of statistics. Nor should this intervention be
associated with the various municipal attempts at solving the
homeless issue. This is a project that was shaped by my interaction
as a citizen and artist with those who live on the streets.