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'Barkitecture' brings canine design to Stan Hywet

By jim Published: May 4, 2009

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal staff writer

Published on Sunday, May 03, 2009

The staff at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens doesn't mind if visitors salivate at the sight of its newest display.

In fact, it's OK if they slobber all over it.

Stan Hywet is courting canine guests with Barkitecture, a doghouse exhibit opening Saturday at the historical estate in Akron. Ten structures dot the grounds, ranging in style from an elegant replica of the Eiffel Tower to a cabin built from oversize Lincoln Logs.

The hope is that Barkitecture will capture the same sort of interest that Stan Hywet's Treemendous Treehouses did two years ago, said Stan Hywet's vice president of marketing, Katie Campbell. It's a whimsical, interactive exhibit that encourages visitors — two-legged and four — to touch, climb and explore.

The doghouses were designed and built by artists and architects who competed for the opportunity to participate. While most stuck with creating a habitat for a dog, some stretched the definition to make their doghouses kid-pleasers.

Take, for example, Poochie Play Pavilion, created by Akron's Meyer Design Inc. It's reminiscent of a child's backyard play structure, with a slide, a tunnel and a ramp with bone-shaped footholds.

''It really is for dogs,'' Campbell said, noting the built-in dog bowls and the container of sticks for pets to chase. But younger human visitors will probably like clambering over it, too.

Kids are also likely to have fun at FireDog House, a miniature fire station complete with a pretend firetruck to drive and a pole to slide down. It was created by TC Architects Inc. of Akron.

Other doghouses have more grown-up appeal. Akron architect Jeffrey Henderson's Frank Lloyd ''Bite,'' for example, is both an homage to the famous architect's Usonian houses and an example of sustainable building practices.

The house has the horizontal lines and large overhangs typical of Wright's buildings. It also incorporates a wall insulated with straw, a living wall covered with climbing plants, reclaimed wood and a vegetative roof planted with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant succulents — a feature that moderates the temperature in a building and mitigates storm-water runoff.

''Really, the house itself was a simple exploration of shelter,'' a way to use a building's design to temper the dog's environment, Henderson said. But he also used it as an opportunity to teach people about green building practices in an easily accessible way.

Some of the doghouses are as much art form as outbuilding. One is Not Your Average Joe, inspired both in name and in form by a St. Bernard that belonged to the Seiberlings, the family that lived at Stan Hywet.

The Beachwood architecture firm Dorsky Hodgson Parrish Yue designed Not Your Average Joe in the abstract form of a sitting dog, said Traci Golownia, a member of the creative team that came up with the design. One side of the oak structure stretches upward, representing the dog's head and torso, and the other is lower, like its haunches.

The sculpture has a practical purpose, however. Part of the doghouse is slatted to allow the breeze to cool its occupant in summer, while the rest is enclosed for protection on colder days. The structure was accessorized with all the extras a dog could want — dog-safe plants to hide and play in, sand to dig and a pond for taking a drink or cooling off.

Even the doghouse's location was intentional, Golownia said. It's in front of the Manor House, where a dog might be able to watch the comings and goings at all the important buildings at Stan Hywet.

A strictly playful twist on a doghouse is I Thought I Thaw a Puddy Cat, Cleveland Heights artist Debbie Apple-Presser's creation. It's made of recycled materials, including wine bottles that capture and play with the sunlight and old bottle caps and paper clips that hang in strips and rattle in the wind.

Despite its name, this is a dog's domain. A less-than-flattering picture of a cat with a circle and slash over it guards the door, and kitten images hang from a wind-powered ceiling fan as though they're doing the work of fanning the dog, Apple-Presser explained.

''My intent was for people to go in and lay down under the fan,'' she said, but Stan Hywet staff members feared damage to the delicate structure. This is the one doghouse in the display that will be just for looking, not for exploring.

The other Barkitecture exhibits are American Gothic, a gingerbread house contributed by One of a Kind Pet Rescue and painted in its signature color; Lincolndog, a Lincoln-Log-type house from the Summit County Division of Animal Control; Oops . . . Bottoms Up!, a tipped-over doghouse created by GPD Associates; the dog trot, Hasenstab Architects' miniature version of the iconic Southern house style with a long open space that encourages breezes to flow through; and An American Dog in Paris, a scaled-down Eiffel Tower created by Kimberly Stehli of Broadview Heights.

Most of the houses will be auctioned Aug. 21 at Stan Hywet's Throw Us a Bone benefit. Donna Spiegler, Stan Hywet's communications manager, expects some of them to fetch — her word — a high price.

''We had some people get very attached to their houses,'' she said of the structures' creators.

It's just proof that doghouses aren't just for dogs.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com.

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