Innovating Shelter Design

NYC architects revamp the traditional layout for housing homeless pups
By JoAnna Lou, January 2014

Although my relationship with Scuttle began at the local shelter, it's still a depressing place to visit. Rows of dark kennels filled with barking dogs isn't enjoyable for the poor animals or the overworked staff. And this of course impacts the visitor experience.

It's been great to see a new trend of shelters designed to improve the atmosphere, such as the San Francisco SPCA with its spacious, homey rooms and the New York-based Animal Haven with its boutique style windows featuring pets for adoption.

This new wave of design is being taken to the next level with the Staten Island Animal Care Center in New York City. The improved shelter will be built from the ground up by Garrison Architects as part of the city's Design Excellence program. The initiative puts public building projects in the hands of top architects, an amazing opportunity to bring innovation to neglected places like the animal shelter.

According to James Garrison, the company's founder, the driving force behind the design process was to increase adoption rates. His team found that happy animals make for happy humans, leading to a total revamp of the traditional shelter layout.

Instead of cramming cages inside long, dark holding areas, the plan is to create rooms that line the perimeter of the building, giving animals exposure to floor to ceiling windows. The design also allows the rooms to be smaller, replacing long rows of kennels with separate areas of seven or eight cages. This will help alleviate barking dogs feeding off each other's stress.

James' team is also planning for custom acoustic separations to keep noise down to a minimum. Normally carpet or cloth would be used to absorb sound, but these materials are also good at absorbing urine. Instead, the rooms will use a special perforated steel material for the ceiling and multi-shell polycarbonate for the walls. These materials will reduce resonating sound, while still being easy to clean. The building will also incorporate as much natural ventilation and light as possible to create a clean and inviting atmosphere.

As if the new design wasn't inspiring enough, an area of the new shelter will be be named after Tommy Monahan, a local nine year old who died after running into his burning home to save the family's Yorkshire Terrier and lizard. It's a special way to remember a boy's love for his pets.

Construction on the new shelter started this month and is scheduled to be complete by April 2015. I can't wait to see the building when it's unveiled!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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