NEW YORK CITY -- In one corner sat a house built with 300 used aluminum cat-food cans, each stuffed with insulation. Another house, made from discarded foam panels and wood, looked like Swiss cheese.
These were some of the entrants in the "Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter" contest, held in New York. Leslie Farrell, who works for Francis Cauffman Architects, founded the contest three years ago to raise awareness and funds for the half million or so cats that live outdoors in the five boroughs.
"No animal should have to live on the streets," Farrell said. "They need food, shelter, medical care."
The architects, working with caretakers for feral-cat colonies, came up with designs for practicality, aesthetics and cat-friendliness.
Zimmerman Workshop built its entry out of a cooler wrapped in sheet moss held together with chicken wire, designed to blend in with a garden environment. M Moser Associates' "Cat Coop" is a series of elevated pods of birch plywood, insulated with compressed foam and carpet. The contest winner gets no prize, only gratitude and "bragging rights," Farrell said. All the projects will find a place somewhere in New York City's gardens, parks or back yards.
A video camera will air a live feed of the eventual feline inhabitants, for researchers and general-public voyeurs.
"I grew up with animals and really value them," said Farrell, who became more aware of urban feral cats after moving to an upper Manhattan neighborhood. She discovered the nonprofit Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, a rescue group that offers advice on living with feral cats humanely.
No one seems to know how many feral cats roam New York's parks and gardens. The Mayor's Alliance says the number of "community cats," a population that includes feral as well as domesticated abandoned felines, is between 500,000 and 1 million.
"They are adept at hiding and they are adept at reproducing," said alliance President Jane Hoffman, adding that two cats can produce 62 cats in just two years.
The alliance's Feral Cat Initiative helps with programs to trap and neuter or spay outdoor cats, then return them outdoors. Cats are vaccinated for rabies and "ear-tipped," in which the left ear is painlessly trimmed so the specimen is easily identified if trapped again.
The designs in the contest will provide some lucky cat colonies with warm, clean homes. The entry from Pilot Projects is a simple schematic for constructing "cat forts" out of materials found in Central Park, such as tree branches and discarded plastic bags, based on American Indian shelters.
Pilot Projects spokesman Scott Francisco wouldn't say exactly where the cat tepees will be placed because the Parks Department doesn't want to draw attention to the shelters, fearing they might encourage humans to abandon more cats.
Francisco said the shelters, designed to be built by children, are meant to not only help cats but also mitigate "the over-digitization of childhood life." The younger generation is being dulled by virtual realities rather than real ones, he said. The cat project is "a small opportunity to give kids a chance to break out of that and engage in the physical world."
The "trap, neuter, return" program is touted as an efficient solution because with neutered and spayed cats there's less fighting and caterwauling and no smelly marking of territories.
For those who don't mind living near an outdoor cat colony, there's an upside. "You are not going to have a vermin problem," Hoffman said. "There's a reason why the ancient Egyptians let cats live in their granaries."