Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Architects for Animals

The Time Machine for Kittens, created by Two One Two Design has open and closed resting areas, a scratch pad and angled outer edges for increased visibility.
Architects for Animals
by Delia von Neuschatz

It would certainly be an understatement to say that Mother Nature has been cruel to New York this winter, mercilessly pounding it with arctic temperatures and snowstorm after snowstorm. We, two-legged denizens, have had it bad enough, but what about the four-legged homeless creatures that roam city streets, alleyways and parks? I'm specifically referring to New York's feral cats, a group that numbers half a million to a million according to some estimates.

Leslie Farrell, founder of Architects for Animals.  Photo:  Alyssa Maloof.
Well, it seems that a lucky few will find a bit of warmth and safety this season thanks to the efforts of a group of altruistic architects who can now add cat habitats to their resumés. Participating in the exhibit, Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter, several architects from nine top New York firms designed and donated imaginative feline-friendly shelters which were recently unveiled at the Steelcase Showroom overlooking Columbus Circle.

This annual exhibition, now in its fourth year, is a one-night-only event which benefits the New York City Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, a coalition of 150+ rescue groups and no-kill shelters.

Each year, architects recruited by Leslie Farrell, Director of Client Development at Francis Cauffman architects and founder of fundraising and awareness-raising initiative Architects for Animals, work for months to create innovative sanctuaries for city kitties.  These shelters have been placed in locations throughout New York City, where certified caretakers oversee the feral cat populations.

“Once again, the architecture community has demonstrated its enormous creativity and ingenuity,” said Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance. “We are extremely grateful to these professionals for sharing their talents for the benefit of New York City’s community cats.”
Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, and Zoe, one of several resident cats at the non-profit’s offices.  Receiving no government funding, the Mayor’s Alliance is supported entirely by donations from foundations, corporations and individuals.  Since its founding in 2003, the organization is committed to transforming New York City into a no-kill community by 2015, meaning that “no dogs or cats of reasonable health and temperament will be killed merely because they do not have homes.”
“No animals should have to live on the street,” proclaimed Leslie Farrell, “but while thousands are still out there, we want to do what we can to help. I applaud the participating architects for their imaginative creations and their generous donation of time.  I hope their efforts will inspire others to join us next year.”

Feral cats, which are born and live outdoors in packs or colonies, are not socialized to humans, and therefore, are not candidates for adoption.  As a result, most adult feral cats entering city shelters, are euthanized.  Feral kittens, on the other hand, can be tamed provided they are removed early enough from their wild environment.  But, the arrival of these kittens into overcrowded city shelters usually results in the removal of adult cats already there.  So, what is the solution to the feral cat overpopulation?
Guests viewing the novel cat shelters at the reception and exhibit.  Feral cat experts were on hand to explain all aspects of TNR and feral cat care. 
The program espoused by the Mayor’s Alliance as part of its Feral Cat Initiative is the non-lethal method of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).  TNR involves a two-step approach.  First, stray and feral cats are humanely trapped, evaluated, given rabies vaccinations, eartipped and spayed or neutered by a veterinarian and then returned to their colony.  Tame cats and kittens young enough to be socialized are removed for adoption.  Second, the feral colony is looked after by volunteers who provide food and water on a daily basis and also clean up the area and monitor the cats’ health.  This ongoing surveillance allows the number of cats in the colony to diminish over time through natural attrition, as cats get old and die from natural causes.

All of this costs money of course, and the evening raised funds through ticket sales and raffle prizes which included original artwork.  The star attraction, however, was understandably, the architecture.  The avant-garde shelters, each of which can shelter three to four cats at a time, are pictured below.  Photos are courtesy of
The art deco-inspired three-story Cathaus submitted by Francis Cauffman architects is constructed out of painted styrofoam containers.
The eye-catching and tactile Hairball entry by M Moser Associates is an insulating box within a box made from feline-favored materials such as brush board, carpet and sand paper.
Recycled carpeting was put to good use by Carlton Architecture to make this shelter which opens up like a book and features a kitty-sized aperture.
Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design used recycled denim to create their structure.
This fiberglass “boulder” which would fit in seamlessly in any park or backyard, was designed by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki of Mish Mish
Additional entries were made by the following firms:
Incorporated Architecture & Design.
Bailly & Bailly.
deSoto Studio Architects.
While the unique shelters pictured above are inspired as well as practical, it’s important to note that sanctuaries need not have outstanding design elements in order to provide the necessary warmth, safety and comfort.

A spokesman for the Mayor’s Alliance emphasized that a simple box made with insulation would serve cats well too.