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Often humanity, as both a quality of being humane and of existing collectively, is limited to a conversation about humans. Perhaps it is a flaw in the word itself which seems to imply a limitation to the human species, a limitation that especially holds true for architecture when designing buildings, towns, and cities. On the other side of the spectrum, New York-based Garrison Architects let go of the familiar warehouse-esque animal shelter model to create the Staten Island Animal Care Centre—a facility that is welcoming to animals and humans alike and build on the growing idea of more-than-human design. The 492.38 sqm space hosts 71 animals including 50 cats, 15 dogs, and guinea pigs/rabbits, and intends to alleviate the anxiety animals feel when boxed into closed structures, as they wait for adoption.
The animal healthcare architecture’s strength lies in its design, which is focused on problem-solving. Garrison Architects, through research and understanding, first identified the core problems that needed to be solved. “Most shelters are arranged like warehouses with dense cage arrays containing large animal populations in a single room. For dogs, this results in a kind of feedback loop where they respond to each other’s distress in a communal howl. The noise is deafening, the smell is overwhelming, and there is no sense of night or day. Responding to this context became our mission—to ameliorate the animals living conditions and create a strong connection to nature. Once we recognised this goal it became apparent that our building should provide its principal inhabitants with natural light and copious ventilation in a small-scale setting,” shares James Garrison, principal architect at Garrison Architects.
The considerably well thought-out facility includes animal holding areas, two large dog yards, separate access points for adoptions and admissions, offices, a reception area, and a staff pantry. On the outside, it has a cleverly landscaped native garden, a parking lot, and a gated loading and service area.
The most identifiable feature of the centre is its reversal from typical animal care facility designs. Here, instead of being cordoned off in the centre, the animals live around the perimeter of the building, with service functions and offices inhabited by humans occupying the core. Considering that a large portion of the employee’s day is spent with animals, the design benefits both. Having the animals on the periphery also curtails any disruption caused by a single troubled animal.
Light plays an important part throughout the facility. The design uses a translucent polycarbonate envelope that creates a lightweight structure that maximises the inlet of natural light. Not only is it more insulating than glass, but it is also more sound-absorbent and durable. A recessed clerestory, initially created to conceal the HVAC equipment, allows an inlet of natural ventilation and light in all directions. Exhausts are used to recover heat energy as animal shelters do not recycle ventilation air.
Like light, colour also plays an important role. The little pops of colour by way of ventilation ducts, pipes, and furniture on the inside and flowers and signages on the outside brighten up the spaces to create a lively atmosphere for the people and animals who inhabit it.
A recipient of the LEED Silver Certification for environmental sustainability, in addition to being kind to its occupants, the facility is also designed to be kind to its surroundings. It uses locally produced materials with high recycled content. The chosen materials are tough and durable and are expected to endure significant wear and tear, thus reducing long-term maintenance costs. The landscape design follows this theme and uses drought-resistant local plants that require minimal maintenance and water use. It also has a dry well system underneath the gated loading service area to capture stormwater runoff.
“We think of our home as a place to return to. It resides in our memory as we move through the world. Like us, many animals have the desire to return to their homes and in the case of dogs they have an uncanny ability, made possible by their sense of smell. But an animal shelter is a twenty-four-hour, seven days a week experience for its principal inhabitants. Animals in a shelter are sequestered and dramatically impacted by a building's relationship to nature,” relays Garrison.
The Staten Island Animal Care Centre is very clearly created by compassionate designers who understand the difference between fulfilling a functional brief and designing an environment for living. They have created a centre that focuses on the needs of its primary inhabitants first, something that is otherwise easily overlooked.
Name: Staten Island Animal Care Centre
Location: Staten Island, United States
Area: 492.38 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Garrison Architects
Civil Engineer: Wohl & O’Mara
Landscape Architect: Wallace Roberts and Todd
Structural Engineer: Murray Engineering
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