20/20: Animal Architecture

Having grown up on a dairy farm, I’m no stranger to barns. But when I saw Cornell University’s Teaching Barn on the cover of Architectural Record’s July issue it got me thinking – how are we designing spaces for our animal friends? Is design improving the well-being of our livestock and working animals? What about our pets, or wildlife? For my 20/20 lunch presentation – a selection of 20 visual slides to spark discussion with staff over slices of pizza – I decided to try to find some answers to these and other questions related to “animal architecture.”

What I discovered is that there are some really creative ideas out there – and some that are really over-the-top ($100,000 for a Neiman Marcus chicken coop anyone?). From artistically crafted structures for chickens and bees to raise the level of importance given to working animals, to projects like Giving Shelter where architects design homes for stray cats in New York City we’re doing more than I thought to benefit our furry and feathered friends. Some are taking these efforts a step further as part of the “animal architecture” or “biologic design” movement – posing the question: what if we design not just for people but all living things? The recent Animal Architecture Awards – a global juried design competition sponsored by animalarchitecture.org – generated a wide range of solutions to building in harmony with nature providing respite for bats, birds and entire ecosystems.

And what can we learn from animal architects? In Africa the sociable weaver bird crafts enormous nest structures that can house 200-400 birds and last hundreds of years. They are so well crafted other birds take refuge in them. If they can create “buildings” that stand the test of time and bring entire communities together so can we.