Bricktown's newest low-cost, environmentally sound living spaces are conveniently located, high-profile and exclusive. The catch? The ceilings are only 3 feet tall, a full-grown adult can't lie down entirely inside the space, and residents are bound to their new homes by chains.
It's the price one pays for downtown living as part of the Central Oklahoma Humane Society's "My Life as a Dog" challenge, where eight metro residents will voluntarily suffer the isolation of a life lived entirely on a chain.
Christy Counts, president of the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, which promotes the well-being of animals, came up with the idea for the challenge by simply looking in the backyards of Oklahoma City neighborhoods.
"One day, I was driving along with my volunteer coordinator, and we saw this dog that was chained up to its doghouse, and it had carved a red-dirt path around its doghouse. You could tell it never got off its chain," she said.
Other communities across the country have had chain-offs before to promote awareness of the problem, but Counts wanted to place the challenge in Bricktown and bring in help to build the doghouses. TAP Architecture stepped up to construct eight doghouses with three different designs that are all eco-friendly. By making the event as big as possible, Counts hopes to reach a large swath of the pet-owning community.
"Chaining is an important issue because it's not just about animal welfare. It's also about protecting our community," she said. "The incidents of dog bites are way more likely by chained dogs. There is a condition called 'barrier frustration' for dogs that live on chains, and they are much more likely to bite and attack people in the community."
To replicate the frustration and isolation felt by dogs, contestants will be chained up on Saturday and will have to live out a week without phones, televisions or computers, aside from a blog on the society's Web site. The only human interaction allowed is with the media, and Counts said various Bricktown restaurants will supply their meals.
The contestants can drop out at any time, but those who can make it to the following Saturday will then be eligible to win a natural gas-powered Honda Civic, donated by Chesapeake Energy.
"If we do have a couple contestants left at the end of the week, then there will be a winner by popular choice," Counts said. "The public can follow the contestants through our Web site because they will be doing two blogs a day and talking about their experience being chained up."
The challenge is also a fund-raiser for the Humane Society, and the public can also take mercy on the contestants by buying them a few creature comforts.
"The night of the event, they can pack a bag to take with them, and we will photograph the items," Counts said. "Maybe John Q. will have a teddy bear he loves, so we will put a photograph of that teddy bear online, and someone can buy that teddy bear for him so he can have that with him in the doghouse. Maybe somebody will buy him a pillow or a toothbrush " different items that might make their stay more livable."
At the end of the challenge, the doghouses will be auctioned off. TAP Architecture associate Zack Woods said three separate designs emerged from an in-house design contest, each using a different approach for sustainability.
The size of the house is based on a large-breed dog, like a Saint Bernard, and each house is 25 inches by 155 inches deep, and 3 feet tall inside. If a person were to build the doghouses on their own, it would cost between $500 and $1,000 in supplies, but Woods doesn't recommend it as low-cost housing for a human.
"It's not exactly spacious," he said. "Someone can lay down in it, but their feet will be hanging out the front door. A large person would be uncomfortable, and if you have claustrophobia, you would definitely have problems with the doghouse. They are just big enough for a person to escape the elements."
Counts would like to get a contestant who didn't see a problem with chaining and hopes that a week under the same condition might re-train the pet owner to be more compassionate.
"And when I say 'chaining,' I don't mean when you are out gardening with your dog, and your dog is the type that will run away, so you tie it up while you are outside or tie him up for a few hours outside because you don't have a fenced yard," she said. "That is different than a dog that lives its entire life chained up to a doghouse in the backyard. There are dogs in the community that have not been off their 8-foot chain in 10 years, and that's just not right."
There was also hope for the involvement of a civic leader or a celebrity. Since contestants would have to take an entire week off of work, basically severing all contact with the world, Counts knew it would be hard. If given her choice of a celebrity contestant, she has one specific NFL quarterback in mind.
"There was a lot of talk about how we could get Michael Vick to come down and compete," Counts said, with a smirk. "He could work off some of his community service hours."
A major player in the ambitious Core to Shore project, TAP Architecture was a coup as the design firm for the doghouses. TAP associate Zack Woods said the firm was glad to jump on board, since so many of the employees have pets and were already interested in the issues dealt with by the challenge. An in-house design competition resulted in three different plans, all with different methods of sustainability.
The Dog Coop: "It is the most basic design and sustainable through digital fabrication," Woods said. "The doghouse was built in a computer and then cut out by a C&C machine, which allows us to be very efficient with the material, with very little waste, very little scrap. It has good insulating properties to help in the winter and the summer. It uses passive cooling. It also has a floating roof which keeps the sunlight from directly hitting the doghouse, and also allows the doghouse to breathe and take away the heat." The Dog Trot: "It is sustainable through critical regionalism," Woods said. "It uses locally available materials and forms that are native to the region we live in. Big roofs, big overhangs, a breezeway. There is a clear separation between the sleeping quarters and the eating quarters, which is a fun play on the doghouse you usually don't see. It is also on wheels, so you can easily move it to accommodate different times of the year." The K-9 Deluxe: "It is a play on a classic doghouse," Woods said. "It has a front porch and is sustainable by system. For instance, the K-9 Deluxe will have a rainwater collection system and a solar fan that will exhaust the heat out of the doghouse, so the dog can stay in the house throughout the summer. That fan is also a light for when you need to clean it out. It is an architectural take on the classic doghouse."