Novel designs for canine living spaces could start a new trend for dog lovers

A handful of designers are hoping their innovative, do-it-yourself concepts for canine living spaces could start a global trend among dog lovers. James King gets on the scent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 10:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 10:10am

Time was when being banished to the doghouse might have meant you were lucky just to have a woof over your head. But a dog's life isn't what it used to be, as a handful of designers seek to elevate the humble kennel into innovative digs many pet owners would envy.

Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara is so sure that doghouses of distinction will become a global trend, he co-founded online project Architecture for Dogs, which supplies free blueprints (as well as instructions and videos) for 13 different do-it-yourself doghouses - or in some cases, oversized toys.

After going into partnership with Imprint Venture Lab of Los Angeles, Hara began pairing architects and designers with specific breeds, his guidelines stating that structures should be tailored to the characteristics, temperaments and living conditions of particular dogs.

As Imprint founder and Architecture for Dogs co-founder Julia Huang puts it, the initiative, reflecting the animal-loving nature of all involved, is a "collection of sincere architectural structures developed in collaboration with world-class architects and designers, with the shared mission of bringing a new kind of joy to the close relationship between dogs and humans".

Hara and Imprint started - and, to date, have remained - small, planning for dogs that generally prefer the cosy indoors to the great outdoors. Furniture and lighting designer Konstantin Grcic came up with a design for a toy poodle called Paramount, which consists largely of a film star's illuminated dressing room mirror, because poodles are said to be smart enough to recognise their own reflections.

Then, the fittingly named Atelier Bow-Wow created a series of zigzag ramps to put dachshunds at the level of their masters' gaze.

Hara led the way with the D-Tunnel - of which there have been 15 versions - a plywood staircase in a hollow wedge, built for a teacup poodle.

Then, with his staff, he assessed other designers' plans and suggested building methods and materials. The results can be found in the recently published book Architecture for Dogs, which features all contributing architects and designers, and explains their handiwork.

Emphasising the project's global nature, the contributors, who are responsible for one concept each, hail from the US, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

For the Netherlands-based Elien Deceuninck and Mick van Gemert of MVRDV architects and landscape designers, the arrival at the company's Rotterdam offices of a letter from Hara heralded a diversion from "public housing, city projects and big master plans", says Van Gemert.

"It was our smallest project - but we like to jump from scale to scale - and the letter asked if someone would like to design an object specifically for a beagle."

"We started with a classical doghouse, then saw what we could do with variations," says Deceuninck. We stretched it, twisted it, turned it upside down, mobilised it and bent it."

The result was a doghouse with a curved base that rocks when a "guest" enters or leaves, making it a paws-on toy as well as a hideout.

The playful but challenging nature of the beagle den meant some dogs were hesitant during testing, says Van Gemert. But they soon came to see it as an interactive tool.

"It touches the ground at one spot and there's a rope attached, so the dog can move it around - beagles like to play. And if it turns out to be good for kids too, that's OK," says Van Gemert.

According to the instructions, their "Beagle House" is graded "normal" on the difficulty chart and should take two days to build. Beyond buying the plywood and nails and being able to exercise "a hammer and some skills", it's not that difficult to make, says Van Gemert.

Asia, with its compact living spaces, is a likely market. "In small homes it's more important to create a special place for a dog," he says.

"Kenya Hara sees the project as an experiment," says Deceuninck. "It's an 'open source' concept, with the drawings to download, and it's meant to evolve."

The hope is that pet lovers around the world will follow the specifications, that their photographs of their creations will go viral, and that construction for canines will become a phenomenon.

"It's an opportunity to explore new things in architecture," she adds. "It's an 'involvement experience' that may become a brand."

For now, for Deceuninck, Van Gemert and the rest of MVRDV, it's back to the drawing board and domestic and overseas urban commissions, which include the transformation of a Kwun Tong waterfront warehouse into open-plan offices, scheduled for completion next year.

Not that the experience of working for four-legged clients will be forgotten soon. "The Beagle House took us about an afternoon, but it was one of our most publicised projects. It was everywhere," says Van Gemert.

Huang concurs, believing the project's overall success has stemmed from the architects' dedication, and the public's embracing of the concept.

"The architects and designers truly embodied Kenya Hara's vision … so that global dialogues have been exchanged and architectural interpretation has brought new possibilities.

"The response has been extraordinary," she says.

The 13 original designs for the benefit of the elite members of today's kennel club have been exhibited in Miami, Tokyo and Los Angeles, with two-legged attendees offering their own doghouse doodles by the hundred, and test-driving the official models. They will be on show again, in Chengdu this summer and in Japan.

Selecting digs for one's faithful companion looks like a lifestyle choice - for both species.

As Hara says: "Taking a close look at our canine partners from a fresh perspective creates an opportunity to re-examine humans, too."