Decoding Design

Sleek animal shelter uses design to comfort dogs, pet owners

Posting in Architecture

Elegant architecture can boost retail sales. Can it also help turn animal shelters from depressing sites into happy destinations for stray dogs and cats--and potential pet owners?

Business executives and consumers alike have witnessed the power of elegant retail design to lure in potential customers and generate sales. The textbook example is, of course, the Apple Stores. But could the same strategy of using sleek, minimalist exteriors and interiors also be applied to animal shelters--and prompt potential pet owners to adopt dogs?

This is the rationale behind a soon-to-open shelter in Southern California. Scheduled for completion later this summer, the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter is as streamlined as an upscale boutique or an art gallery. In many ways, it has the same goals: "marketing the animals," as the Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Boone commented on the project.

"The architecture is very honest. It's not trying to be quaint. It's very bold," Rania Alomar, the architect who designed the building (and the owner of three cats), told me in a phone conversation. "And the goal is to make a shelter environment that is a kinder place."

The $9 million edifice will feature 270 kennels, where a variety of animals in need of homes, from stray lizards to elderly dogs, will be housed. Beyond the attractiveness of the chic-looking building, which will include an open-air space with windows framing a reptile room and a space for birds, the shelter is designed very strategically.

"From the moment that visitors drive into the parking lot, we've designed the shelter like a funnel into the kennels," Alomar, who runs the L.A.-based architecture and design firm RA-DA, told me. "And the style is such that there are no distractions. Visitors get engaged with the animals right away."

Alomar took retail psychology into consideration. The potentially less desirable pets, such as older cats or far-from-cuddly reptiles, are showcased in boutique-like areas located up front, so they are seen before the usual main attraction: puppies. (As the Los Angeles Times reported, the concept is similar to the array of smaller stores that line the corridors of malls and lead up to a destination department store.)

The shelter also features numerous details to make animals comfortable. These include lots of plants for them to look at, versus rows of caged, agitated dogs or cats, and retractable roofs for the outdoor kennels. That the entire building is easy on the eyes--animal and human--is also a plus, Alomar believes.

"When pets are happier and calmer, they're easier to adopt," she told me. "And when people are happier and calmer, they might also bond better with, say, an older dog"--and walk out the door with it. While the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter is set to be a lovely temporary abode for animals, such a pleasant place is ultimately meant to encourage leaving it for other, even happier homes.

Image: City of Los Angeles

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure