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Architecture goes to the dogs – with posh results

Architect Sou Fujimoto for the Boston terrier

Hiroshi Yoda

Kenya Hara, the art director of Japanese retailer Muji, has designed perfume bottles for Kenzo Parfums, a modernist bookstore in Osaka and the opening and closing ceremony programs at the Nagano Winter Olympics. His next project? A doghouse.

His new company, Architecture for Dogs, has solicited works from high-end designers and architects around the world – including Japan's Hiroshi Naito, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and Munich-based Konstantin Grcic, winner of Design Miami's designer of the year award in 2010 – to create pieces that rethink our relationship with our four-legged friends.

Hara, who doesn't own a dog because of his travel demands, says he was inspired by the fact that although so many people own dogs, the design environment that we live in rarely takes dogs in to account.

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"I think more so than any other animal, dogs are dependent on humans for their needs. …Over the last tens of thousands of years, we have bred and crossbred them and domesticated them in a way that they are now completely dependent on humans. At the same time, humans are the only beings that live in a designed, built environment, which is obviously built to the human scale. But many people live with their dogs in their homes so this project is really looking at changing existing architecture so that it is also suitable for our dog companions," Hara said through a translator in an e-mail.

Dog owners in Canada spend an average of $1,800 each year on their dog, while websites hocking doggie design abound to pamper pooches with everything from $300 loungers to $600 mid-century modern dog furniture. But perhaps never before has high design and dogs intersected with the seriousness of purpose than they do with Architecture for Dogs.

The project officially launched this week in an exhibition that is part of Design Miami, an annual forum of global design. The exhibition features 13 pieces, each created by a different architect, chosen by Hara and Imprint Venture Lab, the California-based venture capital company that is helping to fund and consult on the project. The blueprints for each project are available to download free online, and the company plans to sell kits of each design next spring.

"They are designers whose work I personally admire. I selected a lot of architects for this project because I think architects take a very serious approach to the design process, which is something I wanted for this project," Hara says. "We worked very closely with Imprint Lab to research different breeds of dogs – their characteristics, personalities, etc. We then assigned each designer a breed of dog so they could create something specific to that breed."

Hara created what he calls a "D-Tunnel" for teacup poodles. The piece, which features a set of stairs, is intended to be a "scale modifier" that allows dogs and owners to be face-to-face. Haruka Misawa designed a floating roof made from one large piece of heavy paper, with a Japanese terrier in mind. There is also a "dog cooler," made from aluminum pipes for dogs to lie on; a "mobile home" that looks like a doggie stroller; "mount pug," a mesh-shaped structure made of plywood that dogs can sit under; and a "wanmock," a wooden frame on which you can hang a piece of your clothing that dogs can then sit on. The latter was designed because Jack Russell terriers love to sit on their masters' clothes.

Some of the company's designs look like nothing you would ever think to associate with dogs, like the "Chihuahua Cloud," a piece of fabric that covers the entire dog, including its head, which the architects say translates the movement and personality of the dog "into a pattern of undulations." Other pieces put new spins on old classics, such as the interactive doghouse for beagles created by Elien Deceunink and Mick van Gemert from the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV.

"The whole assignment was about the interaction between humans and dogs, and that's what interested us," Deceunink says. "Most of the playful things that are designed for dogs, especially the houses, they are always too low or there's no interaction with the human being."

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The team started with the shape of a classic doghouse and then made slight modifications, including a rounded bottom that rocks the house slightly when the dog enters or exits, making the house something of a toy. There is a rope attached so that the dog can take his (or her) house wherever he wants. And because of the house's curved lines, people can easily see their dog inside without having to crouch down.

Hara says that one of his biggest goals for the project is that by thinking about architecture for dogs will help people reflect on the built environment we all navigate everyday.

"Many times people either don't know how or don't feel comfortable talking about architecture. It can be intimidating. But when you talk about it as it relates to dogs, it changes the conversation and makes it more accessible." More designers will be selected to create new pieces as the company progresses, Hara says.

It's not likely that the company will delve in to designs

for other animals, Hara says. But there is a good chance it will expand to other areas of life.

"Ideas like Architecture for Sleeping or Architecture for Cooking have been discussed," Hara says. "For me, this project is about applying architecture to all sorts of things and exploring where that takes us. We've even talked about Architecture for Babies. I'd be really interested to see what that would look like."

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