Michigan Animal Rescue League / PLY+
Text description provided by the architects. The building design for the Michigan Animal Rescue League (MARL) embodies a core goal of achieving a “different kind of shelter” to improve the well-being of the animals in their care. MARL started the project with a detailed program analysis that showed the organization’s need to grow beyond the temporary 5,000 sqm facility to a world class 15,000 sqm facility.
The project accommodates the desired growth in an irregular, topographically challenging location by grouping all animal care areas on a shared level and placing administrative functions below the southern entrance. The northern medical wing connects to the existing foundations of the former shelter. This alignment saved expensive construction work due to challenging ground conditions and maintained a street presence at Featherstone, the access point MARL has served since its founding in 1953.
Our design process translated peer-reviewed animal care best practices into key architectural elements and spatial organizations to address organizational and environmental challenges that greatly impact the health and well-being of shelters for cats and dogs. We worked closely with key MARL staff to identify four design goals: (1) integrate natural light for all animals into MARL’s care, (2) provide freedom of choice in all animal enclosures, (3) design mechanical systems from a wellness center point of view prioritize air exchange rates and thermal comfort, (4) promote a visual connection to the importance of well-being through color.
In the adoptable dog spaces, these goals were achieved through the implementation of a courtyard that provides generous natural light and visual interest, while avoiding “nose-to-nose” dog interactions that can increase stress levels. The dog kennels were further organized into four neighborhoods with doors separating each to provide acoustic control between neighborhoods and reduce noise levels — another well-documented source of increased stress levels for both dogs and staff.
The individual kennels are specially designed with full glass for acoustic reasons and colorful perforated panels that provide the necessary airflow and animals a choice for interaction with potential adopters. Health and well-being are further supported by a high level of fresh air exchange and underfloor heating which provides energy efficiency and excellent thermal comfort.
In the adoptable cat areas, custom “apartments” have been designed to give cats freedom of movement and a choice of seating positions. Details facilitate cleaning and minimize the nuisance for the cats. The organization of the apartments in the rooms allows all cats to have a view of the window and when allowed to roam freely in the space, the cats can navigate through a series of wooden ledges that provide continuous movement around the room or sun-filled sleeping areas in the southern windows .
Combined, this highly integrated design approach results in a new and exciting future in a facility that “provides the highest quality of life for dogs and cats through rescue, medical care, socialization, behavioral support, short- and long-term shelter, adoption, and community education and outreach.”