I HAVE CAT

Architects set out to create warm spaces for New York's 10,000 feral cats.

Cats can be finicky clients, with mysterious preferences that add up to an almost universal rejection of the carpet platforms and plush beds humans design for them.

So when several New York architects set out to design winter shelters for the city’s tens of thousands of feral cats, they had to consider what makes good design from a feline perspective. In a competition organized by Architects for Animals to benefit the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, seven architecture firms (and one independent designer) found inspiration in outdoor carpeting, Spanish moss, and aluminum cat-food cans. So how did they go about attracting the street cats of New York, short of hiding warm, charging MacBooks all over the city?

M Moser Associates’ winning design, CatCOOP, by architects Charlton Hutton, Ryan O’Connor, Jessie Bukewicz, and Aleksy Shafiro. 

"We treated the cats like our clients: what do they need, how will they live within this space, what materials can we use that a cat will gravitate towards?" says architect Charlton Hutton, whose team from M Moser Associates produced the winning design, a modular stack of pods tricked out with scratch-friendly outdoor carpet. All of the cat houses were on view Thursday night at Steelcase Showroom on Columbus Circle. On Friday Architecture for Animals dispatched the shelters to locations across the five boroughs.

A diagram of M Moser’s CatCOOP. Image courtesy of M Moser Associates.

Since cats like to sit at different heights, the M Moser team built a series of elevated pods supported by asymmetrical posts. Each pod has a sliding panel for air circulation in summer and a wraparound canopy that doubles as a weather barrier and an outdoor perch. The design also includes a wayfinding feature: a spring green entry portal.

"Based on our research, we found that cats distinguish between the low- to mid-light wave spectrum — meaning purple, blue, yellow, and green, with blue and green being the strongest colors they see," says Hutton. The architects beta-tested their design with their own cats, he adds: "They weren’t too fond of the power tools, but as soon as the assembly started they were all over the outdoor carpet we used for the interior insulation and began climbing in and out of the boxes."

This design by Zimmerman Workshop uses Spanish moss and sheet moss to blend in with its secret location in a garden.

For her shelter, designer Kathryn Walton—who won last year’s competition—reused 300 aluminum cat food cans and insulated each one. The resulting figure-eight-shaped enclosure (pictured at top) can accommodate up to four cats at a time.

A shelter by Callison.
This apple green shelter by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture makes clever use of a file box, and gives area kitties a self-storage option for winter.

All photos courtesy of Tarmar Arslanian of I HAVE CAT except where noted. Top image: Tin Hut, by designer Kathryn Walton, founder of the American Street Cat.

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Lamar Anderson

Lamar Anderson is a San Francisco–based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Architectural Record, ARTnews, the Hairpin, and Salon.

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