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Animals

Design

Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014

eddie

My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.

CatHaus

“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.

CatHive

“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design

Carlton

by Carlton Architecture PC

timemachine

“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design

Hairball

“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”

petunia

Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)

wildcat

African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.

NYFeralCatInitiative

New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”

outdoorshelter

Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”

rubbershelter

Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”

zimmerman

by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”

fiberglasspod

“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)

vernacular1vernacular2vernacular3

Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Adrienne Vita

March 6, 2013

Artist Adrienne Vita | UncommonGoods

Through her exuberant illustrations, Adrienne Vita celebrates life, family, and friendship. “Coexisting” reminds us that, like giant polar bears and tiny birds, we all share the same planet, while the colorful family of cuddling wolves in “Close Knit” reminds us to hold on to those we love.

Feeling energized (and maybe a little mushy–in a good way) by Adrienne’s vibrant work, I couldn’t help but wonder where she brings her alluring animals to life. From across the country, the artist sent some positive vibes to Brooklyn in the form of her virtual studio tour. Although Adrienne mentioned that the sun was hidden behind clouds over Portland, Oregon when she held her photo shoot, this look inside her home-based workspace definitely brightened my day.

What are your most essential tools?
Brushes, pencils, pens, paper, an Exacto blade and music.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Well, my “space” includes a couple parts of my house. It started off as a logistical thing such as size of the rooms, hooking computers together with one router, etc. That became how and where I could set up my “spaces” to do my work. But I’ve grown to really like it this way over the years. Mainly, I share a computer “think tank” room with my husband (when he’s home) and have a drawing part in another small room. I like how when I draw; I don’t have the distraction of the computer or the business part of what I do because it’s in another room. Also, I use the basement for the really messy stuff, and sometimes move my work outside on the deck in the summer. It’s really nice to be able to switch it up.



Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Meditation time on my couch in the drawing part of my studio is a perfect way to recharge and get some moments of down time in between working.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I have a book where I write my goals but often refer to lots of colorful post-it notes and iCal for daily intricacies.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Lot’s of dance parties! Coconut ice cream and treats are always a nice way too.


What quote keeps you motivated?
What does that quote mean to you? I have never read this book but I always liked the title so much – “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway”.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Traveling, visiting with nature, riding my bike, baking and of course dancing and singing! Basically, just doing things I enjoy that allow me to be creative and free in a different way.


What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?

Five years ago, I struck out on my own after working for various design companies for about 10 years. When I first started, I was worried about how I would make enough money and how I would stand out in a sea of talented artists. Basically losing sight of the big picture of the work I am here on this earth to do. Knowing what I know now, I would have told myself, “What you put out in the world is more than what you make or create. It’s about the connection with people, about the helping and healing that you give through your work that is important. That is why you make art. Do it in your own way and celebrate it.”

The Uncommon Life

Wheat Grass in the House (and the tortoise, and the cats)

June 19, 2012

At UncommonGoods, we’re big proponents of “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” Nothing goes to waste, if we can help it. Last week, our Creative team did something super-top secret with 24 flats of wheat grass. Afterward, rather than throw it away, Adam, our staff photographer, walked among our desks offering some to any takers. He left the rest on a shelf in one of our break rooms.

I happened to be tortoise-sitting last week for some neighbors who were out of town. Since Roberta – that’s her name – eats only greens, and the occasional flower when she gets lucky, I wondered if she could eat wheat grass, too.

A quick web search turned up both the type of tortoise she is (sulcata, or African spurred tortoise–a desert type) and the answer to my question: Grass is great. I learned that desert tortoises evolved to make the most of high-fiber, low-protein greens like grasses, and that lower-fiber, higher-protein supermarket greens that people eat are bad for their health.

I brought some flats of the wheat grass to Roberta’s lair, and she went nuts for it.

Chomp chomp chomp chomp! It was like watching a dinosaur movie.

This is what one of the flats looked like after she had had her way with it for a couple of days.

Cats, too, enjoy the occasional blade of grass, so I gave a couple of flats to a friend who has five; three in the office and two at home; and to another friend who has two. All seven are rescues, saved from heartbreaking lives by the kindness and cat-craziness of my pals.

Here’s Pumpkin, nibbling.

Pumpkin again, really getting into it. Check out those fangs!

Gloria isn’t sure she wants to get involved.

Gloria, sending a telepathic wheat grass inquiry to her Martian overlords.

Beta is living the compleat wheat grass lifestyle: eating it, pretending to be a lion stalking in an African savanna, and finally, using it as his throne.

It doesn’t get much greener than taking something already green and re-using it–and finally, via the magical mystery of a tortoise’s digestive system, turning it into garden fertilizer. I decided to spare you photos of that.

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