Gimme Shelter

studioatja —  May 13, 2013 — 1 Comment

An Animal shelter is a complex dance:  canines, felines, humans and sometimes “critters” and there is a clear path to be found.  We understand this complexity.  After all, fundamentally humans, particularly architects, design shelters for mammals.

Historically, human habitat consisted of a cave, a stockade, a mud and grass enclosure that would contain heat and allow control of a small piece of environment.



A stone hut was defensible.  The right kind of stone hut could contain grain, allowing a once nomadic species to stay home, to cultivate, to raise livestock and to cook.  From found shelter to assemble, manipulated materials, our habitats evolved.  Today, they are complex and incorporate a variety of materials far more sophisticated than stone. But, our shelters are basically the same thing that they were centuries ago, responding to the same needs.

Studhorse Mt. Cabin

The use of caves and stone was not that long ago – many humans continue to rely on these types of shelter.  But, today most humans live a different life.  We have agribusiness, malls and pets.  We capture and condition all kinds of space.  Our structures often reflect our roots, however, selecting the limited, framed view over anything that emulates our pre-historic lives out of doors. That might be changing – and our domestic animals may be inadvertently showing us the way.

looking out the window

CHWindowBay sm

Not surprisingly, for example, veterinary science is discovering that cats who can stretch without hitting the top of the cage are less neurotic, that dogs who don’t have to beg for attention or food are more disciplined, healthier and easier to live with…that a little space and the option to behave in a natural way reduces stress and disease.  Who knew!

cat in nest


The meaning of the word shelter is evolving.  Shelter is a protected place, but it can also be protective in a different way than tradition would suggest.  When researching animal shelters I discovered that cats don’t really get stuck in trees – we think so, because they are really running from our idea of home to their idea of home – of course!  They like it up there.

Cascade Park Library 030


When we humans find a place with a vista and a sense of privacy and shelter, we relish it – at least if we are warm and our food is safe too. Today we can create such spaces within our architecture, but we frequently forget the basics.  Solid walls of stone are no longer essential – glass and sustainable technology can help us to complete our enclosures while connecting with the natural environment.

print 2

A couple of weeks ago I have the pleasure of spending a few hours in the Printmaking Studio at the University of Washington School of Art.  A group of about 20 novice printers showed up for instruction on how to make monotypes from UW art professor Curt Labitzke.  After a brief history lesson and some instruction, Curt set us loose with acrylic plates, a pallet of inks and rollers.  I think the last time I attempted to make a print was in college and the etching process, while fascinating, was far from spontaneous. 

The immediacy of the monoprint process was invigorating and although I am sure many in our little group were not used to expressing their ideas visually with paint or pencil or ink on paper, the studio buzzed with delight at what was revealed when our prints were lifted from the press.  Curt, an inspiring teacher, kept us on task and entertained as three hours in the studio flew by.

print 3

Monoprinting is just as the name implies, “one print” although a second or even a third pass through the press can produce “ghost prints” that I found more evocative than the first prints. 

The printmaking process yields a product that is once removed from the artist’s hand. The press, the paper, the ink, the various oils and powders that can be applied to alter the way the ink adheres (or not) to the paper adds surprising and sometimes unexpected elements to the result.  Printmaking is a collaboration of the tools and materials used and the artist, and maybe that is why it reminded me of architecture. 

print 1

Although my products are those of a rank beginner, I was thrilled a process that felt natural to me. It also reminded me what a great resource we have right her, a stone’s throw from the JA offices. Thanks UW!


The Nest Thermostat

studioatja —  February 22, 2013 — Leave a comment


I purchased a Nest having been wowed by a sleek yet simple design, and the ability to operate it remotely via my iphone or laptop.

My house thermostat only allowed for four different temperature settings for each day of the week, was over a decade old and insensitive in its own way.


The Nest spends a week or more identifying a behavior pattern and adjusts the programmed schedule to work toward efficiency. Once programmed, it “notices” occupant absence and defaults to a pre-defined energy-saving temperature. If the house is empty during a cold snap, the Nest will maintain a temperature meant to keep the water pipes from freezing. The Nest website includes information for checking compatibility with heating and cooling systems, installation procedures, product features, and a community area for exchange of tips and suggestions for improvements. It also explains how you can access a 10-day record of energy use. Read more at the website,

Here is a simple installation:

parts old thermostat

wiring new thermostat portrait plate

horizontal plate