About Hale County Humane Society

As published on World Building:
Category: Civic
Location: Greensboro, United States of America
Architect: Rural Studio, Auburn University
WAF Entry: 2008
Award: World Architecture Festival 2008 - Category Commendation
Photograph by: Timothy Hursley

The Hale County Animal Shelter in Greensboro, Alabama, is a project, like many in that area, born out of necessity. Hale County is one of the poorest counties in Alabama’s poverty-stricken “Black Belt”. In 2005, Hale County found itself in danger of a lawsuit: It is the duty of every county to provide a suitable county pound, as is stated in Acts 1990, No. 90-530, p816. § 7. In August of 2005, four architecture students and soon to be builders started research and design for The Hale County Animal Shelter. An $80,000 budget was allotted for the project’s construction and thus all decisions were always calculated against monetary constraints. For Hale County Officials, this meant the project had to be inexpensive to build but last, efficient to run with minimal personnel, and easy as well as economical to maintain. The designers’ role trespassed that of traditional architects as they found that research regarding laws for shelters, hierarchy of leadership regarding its maintenance as well as estimated costs to run such a facility were needed in order to inform design decisions regarding personnel, program and size of the facility. Fundraising totaling $100,000 in material and cash donations, actual construction of the building, and the establishment of a Humane Society were also among the roles undertaken by the students.

The building’s orientation responds to the main wind patterns of the site providing the building with natural ventilation and fulfilling the 8-12 changes of air per hour needed by dogs to stay healthy. Also, its proximity to the road and easy access increase public awareness and use of the building.

The facility’s linear plan allows for a clear distinction of private and public areas. Its design channels visitors through the building without the use of signs and also allows one part-time employee to have clear views of the facility necessary for safety of both the animals and the public. A viewing corridor, open 24 hours, gives maximum exposure to the animals which will help increase adoptions and other fees to help sustain the facility.

Two carefully positioned windows bring natural light but block direct sunlight. Natural light ensures that the animals maintain healthy diurnal cycles, decreasing stress and disease, as well as energy bills. In the winter, the 12 dog pens are heated with a radiant flooring system, heating the slab where the dogs are laying. Other heating systems would have proved costly and inefficient because heat would rise away from the dogs. The office and exam room are designed to be compact spaces that can be heated and cooled with conventional easy to maintain window units.

Design decisions had to always be weighed alongside practicality of construction and costs. The lamella roof, a diamond patterned structure, was chosen not only because the roof’s shape channels incoming wind through the building but also because it allowed the construction of a wide span roof to be built by four people without the use of cranes (minimizing costs, since labor was donated). In addition, because the lamella roof is a modular system, the shelter is free to adapt to the facility’s future needs.

The roof consists of pre-cut 2”x8” yellow pine, tongue and groove boards and corrugated galvanized metal. These materials and the shape of the roof are an echo of the old barn structures found across the South, shapes and textures that belong to this area.
The interior materials, flat galvanized metal sheets cover both the interior and exterior of the office pods, which will never have to be painted and can be easily washed. The stainless steel cages use bars that will need no replacement, versus the conventional chain link used in many other shelters that tends to be eaten and climbed by the dogs as well as rust. The floor is concrete, covered with an industrial epoxy that does not encourage bacterial growth and allows for ease of cleaning. Thus all materials are strong and maintenance free, another way the design helps Hale County meet its budget constraints.

The lamella roof was assembled in the 3D computer program Rhinoceros, all measurements for the 2x8’s that formed the diamond pattern were taken directly from the model. The steel legs and their connection to the roof were also calculated this way. Construction started with the design and building of a jig. (See pictures) The jig allowed the four design-builders to build the roof in 13 sections. Once the pre-cut 2x8’s were assembled on the jig and connected with bolts, it could be raised with integrated hydraulic jacks and connected to the short steel columns. The jig would then be lowered and rolled on four wheels to start the process again. The building was stitched together section by section, and in a little over two weeks the main frame for this 46m (150’) long building was finished. Once the roof was finished, all plumbing and radiant flooring, as well as main electrical pipes were installed and the slab poured. The pods, office and exam rooms are standard wood construction, with the exception of steel beams that allow for a cantilever that emphasizes the entrance and bathing area. Construction lasted a little over a year, and in August of 2007, the building was able to celebrate its completion alongside many of the community members who had long been awaiting the needed animal shelter.

Since its completion, The Hale County Animal Shelter continues to surprise visitors who realize “it’s very cool in here” and that natural ventilation really works, just as it still does in the many Victorian houses of the South. It now flanks one of the main highways in Greensboro, a long slender structure that hovers overlooking the nearby pastures and catfish ponds awaiting its canine and feline residents. Known by many locals as the “Quonset Hut”, the animal shelter sits proud to be able to provoke wonder and awe by the simplicity of its form, the complexity of its structure and the beauty of conventional materials.

Lead Architect »
Rural Studio, Auburn University

Hale County Humane Society
P O Box 476
Greensboro, AL 36744
Phone: 334-624-8120