Project: Squirrel Houses
In 2008 i collaborated with Amos Scully to create a project designed to teach basic wood skills for a purpose. We worked with an animal rehabilitation expert who focuses on small mammals to give the students in the 3D foundation course at Rochester Institute of Technology a building experience that took them from the classroom studio to creating some truly impacting work.
The animal rehabilitator visited the classes with a squirrel she had rescued and discussed the needs of animals and handlers alike. The method most handlers use is to keep animals in a large cage, sometimes with other rescued animals, but to give them smaller units to live in and store food in. The units are very species specific and must have certain design standards, otherwise they will not be used. When the animal is well enough to return to the ecosystem, the rehabilitator puts it into a box and takes the box to a place in the natural environment. Once the anxious animal is "sprung," the box is left on site for several day to allow a segue back into life on their own (this is called a soft release).
Students designed and fabricated squirrel houses that could be used as homes within the larger cages, but could also be used as transport units and for soft release. The boxes featured designs for hanging and removal on the wall of the cage, doors that could contain the squirrel during transport, and (importantly) used no materials (such as plywood) that could be toxic to the squirrels as they crib (chew) on the structure.
After the class critique of the project, all houses were distributed to members of the New York State Animal Rehabilitation Council for use.