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.
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.
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!
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.
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.