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JAR Interview: Triangle Barkitecture, Where Pets Meet Design

Updated: Aug 8, 2023


From the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture event, a lucky canine explores the "Paw-rabula," an innovative pet design by the Duda|Paine team. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
From the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture event, a lucky canine explores the "Paw-rabula," an innovative pet design by the Duda|Paine team. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Join us as we delve into the creative world of Triangle Barkitecture, a unique design competition that combines architectural innovation with a love for pets. With its roots in the American Institute of Architects, Triangle Barkitecture showcases some of the most innovative pet housing solutions while raising funds and awareness for pet rescue organizations. Since its inception in 2019, this signature fall event has raised approximately $32,000 for local pet rescues. Although the event had to pause in 2020 due to the pandemic, it bounced back in 2021 and is now on pace to cross the $50,000 mark after the 2023 event. We interviewed Joshua Thomasson, chair of the event, to discover how this project has grown, the creative designs it has inspired, and the impact it has made on the local pet rescue community.


Key Takeaways

  • Triangle Barkitecture was born out of a passion for both pets and architecture. It is an opportunity for architects to think outside the box and create innovative, pet-centric architectural designs.

  • The event has inspired a wide range of unique designs, including solar-powered pet homes, 3D printed housing components, and structures created from recycled materials.

  • With many designs featuring recycled materials and renewable energy sources, the event encourages sustainable design practices.

  • The event has seen significant growth since its inception and holds potential for further expansion and influence, potentially sparking similar events in other areas.

Meet the 2022 Best in Show winner at Triangle Barkitecture - the Hexa-Pawd. Its thoughtful inclusion of space for both canine and human companions and its foldable design make it as practical as it is charming. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
Meet the 2022 Best in Show winner at Triangle Barkitecture - the Hexa-Pawd. Its thoughtful inclusion of space for both canine and human companions and its foldable design make it as practical as it is charming. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Q: How did the idea for Triangle Barkitecture come about, and what inspired you to blend pet care with architectural design?


A: I definitely can't take credit for the idea of Barkitecture as there have been events around for a few years before us. Barkitecture Austin and Charlotte come to mind as inspiration for our event and the great work they did.


For me, I had just moved to Raleigh in 2017 and was looking to get more involved in the community. I'm an architect and member of the American Institute of Architect (AIA), and when looking at events for our local chapter, AIA Triangle, I saw Barkitecture and knew that's what I wanted to do: the perfect mix of things I love: pets and architecture! I reached out with the intent of competing and ended up taking over the leadership for the event. From there, I found an amazing group of volunteers to form our Triangle Barkitecture committee and we worked to have the first ever Triangle Barkitecture event in 2019! From there, we've continued to grow the committee and the event to be bigger and bigger.


I still have yet to design my first Barkitecture design, but I promise it's still coming! I'd also be lost without my fellow volunteers and committee members over the years: Shawna Varichak, Anne Lebo, Megan Kaufmann, Miyuki Keller, Dharshyani Jackson, Noelle Robinson, Lindsay Elliot, Brittany Larsen, Vivian Chiang, Ethan Olkovikas, Hannah Smith, Dan Greenburg, and a bunch of day-of volunteers that keep this event successful.


Our success is tied to the amazing design talent we have here in the Triangle and the architects really make it easy to promote the event with their designs.


A service dog lies attentive and ready for action within one of the innovative structures at the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture competition. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
A service dog lies attentive and ready for action within one of the innovative structures at the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture competition. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Q: Can you share some of the most innovative or unexpected designs from previous competitions?


A: We have a lot of architectural design talent here in the Triangle, and they never fail to impress us with their designs and innovations. We even have an award called 'Craziest Cat' that recognizes the most surprising and unique builds at the competition.


We've seen solar powered displays that power lights, fans, and music for your pet to vibe to outside, clever reuse of frisbees, dog leashes, and architectural material samples to create designs, motorized shade structures, 3D printed housing components, and more! Every year we have teams pushing the boundary and what pet architecture can be in new and exciting ways. I think our architects really like the challenge of thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions to the question of what Barkitecture is and can be.


Dressed in a bandana and taking a breather on the "Pooch Porch," this dog is enjoying Clark Nexsen's award-winning design from the 2021 Triangle Barkitecture competition. This design fetched the Fat Cat award for raising the most money through auction. NC State College of Design aided in the construction. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
Dressed in a bandana and taking a breather on the "Pooch Porch," this dog is enjoying Clark Nexsen's award-winning design from the 2021 Triangle Barkitecture competition. This design fetched the Fat Cat award for raising the most money through auction. NC State College of Design aided in the construction. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Q: What's the process like for architects and designers to compete in this event? How do you encourage creativity while ensuring safety for the pets?


A: Architects register to compete on our website and post a set of guidelines that are intended to not only provide a safe and functional space for pets, but also encourage sustainability for their design and use of materials. We keep the list of materials pretty open and encourage design for all pets and all shapes and sizes. I think these guidelines are something that is always evolving, but we also try not to limit the creativity of our designers.


We have a series of check-ins with teams leading up to the event and a couple of deadlines (because architects work best under deadlines). This includes having teams submit progress sketches/renderings/builds of their designs about a month prior to the event. We share these on our social media as a way to get people excited about what they'll see on site.


One issue we like to raise awareness for is that Barkitecture isn't about permanent outside housing for dogs and these are more of activity focused designs or hang-out shade spots while outside with your pup. We've actually seen a pretty even split in recent years of interior and exterior focused designs with some amazing pet furniture.


From the 2021 Triangle Barkitecture competition, a playful pooch stands inside "That is so Fetch," a creatively designed tennis ball house by Cline Design Associates. This unique structure, complete with a wall of tennis balls, fetched the Best in Show Award, in partnership with Timmons Group & Clancy & Theys Construction Company. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
From the 2021 Triangle Barkitecture competition, a playful pooch stands inside "That is so Fetch," a creatively designed tennis ball house by Cline Design Associates. This unique structure, complete with a wall of tennis balls, fetched the Best in Show Award, in partnership with Timmons Group & Clancy & Theys Construction Company. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Q: How do you select the pet rescue organizations that benefit from the event, such as Triangle Beagle Rescue and Friends of Wake County Animal Center?


A: We've had a little bit of a hybrid approach to picking rescues both past and present and either have rescues suggested to us or they are ones we seek out because we are familiar with them and their mission. It has honestly changed as our event has grown and we've gotten noticed more and have had rescues reach out to us - we honestly wish we could work with everyone because we have so many amazing rescues here in NC. We've donated to five different rescues so far, and this year we'll have five different rescues on site with adoptable sets and booths to educate the community on their mission.

To date, we've worked with Hope Animal Rescue, Meow House Cat Rescue, Freedom Ride Rescue, Paw Prints Animal Rescue, Triangle Beagle Rescue, and Friends of Wake Co. Animal Shelter. At our event this September, we'll also have Peak Lab Rescue and BeWild Reptile Rescue out, which we are super excited for. Maybe more!


It does get a little hard because we get to know these great organizations even better over the course of the event year, but we also know there are a lot of other great rescues that we can get the spotlight on and do some good for. We were lucky enough this year with the Fenton venue to invite all past rescues back out if they were able to attend.


Q: What have been some of the most rewarding moments or success stories that have come out of Triangle Barkitecture?


A: For me, getting to know the rescues better and how hard they work to save pet lives has been great. It makes it easy to put time towards the event knowing that the money we raise is really going to help out and support them.

This charming yellow and white dog dwelling, designed by the HH Architecture team, won the People's Choice Award at the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture event. Dubbed "Camp Barkitecture," it boasts a water-resistant shell that encloses a foldable structure for easy transport. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
This charming yellow and white dog dwelling, designed by the HH Architecture team, won the People's Choice Award at the 2022 Triangle Barkitecture event. Dubbed "Camp Barkitecture," it boasts a water-resistant shell that encloses a foldable structure for easy transport. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

There's also nothing quite like seeing someone meet an adoptable pet on site and knowing that's the one. We've had friends fall in love with adoptables that eventually became part of their family, and that's pretty special.


It's also fun giving architects a chance to really flex their creative muscles and showcase their hard work to the community while watching all the dogs on site put their designs to the test in real-time!


Q: How does Triangle Barkitecture engage with the local community, and how can people get involved in supporting this initiative?


A: Our event is always pet-friendly and free to attend. The goal is to get as many people in the community out to see some great pet architecture and potentially meet their next fur-ever friend at one of our rescue partners.


100% of profits from the event go to our rescue partners and we'll have a lot of activities on site to take part in and opportunities to donate. We encourage everyone to come out and bring friends to experience all the fun.


We're always looking for volunteers that want to take on a bigger role in the event as well or that might be interested in joining our planning committee.


Q: Can you share insights into the upcoming event at Fenton in Cary, NC? What makes this the "BIGGEST Barkitecture yet"?


A: Our Triangle Barkitecture event on September 30th at Fenton will be the largest venue we've ever hosted the event at and will feature the most Barkitecture builds we've ever had (over 20 teams registered), the most rescues we've ever had on site (five total - maybe more!), and I'm also thrilled to announce that we are on pace for our biggest fundraising year ever before the event even starts!


That's not even mentioning all the pet friendly activities we're planning to have: pet portraits, splash pads, agility course, photo stations, pet massage and reiki, treat stations, and more are all being planned. We'll have live music, people's choice voting, awards, and some amazing local silent auctions and chance drawings as well.


This is our most ambitious year in terms of offerings on site, and this is an event we want people to remember and come back year after year. We still think we're one of the best kept secrets in the area, but we're reaching for that secret to be out!


 A dog finds a cozy nook inside this structure from the 2019 Triangle Barkitecture competition. Atop is a handy storage space for a rolled blanket. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)
A dog finds a cozy nook inside this structure from the 2019 Triangle Barkitecture competition. Atop is a handy storage space for a rolled blanket. (Photo by Alyssa Stepien, Rose+Anchor Photography, courtesy of Triangle Barkitecture)

Q: What are the long-term goals for Triangle Barkitecture, and how do you envision its growth and impact on the local community and beyond?


A: I think the goals are still pretty simple: create amazing pet architecture and continue to support the great pet rescues we have here. We want to keep growing and have our event educate the community on pet awareness and the value of architecture and design. We obviously want to continue to grow the popularity of our event as well because ultimately that's how we raise the most donations for our rescues and get the most eyes on them and the work they do in our community.


Q: Are there plans to collaborate with other chapters of the American Institute of Architects or expand the initiative to other regions?


A: It's something that has been discussed before, and honestly I'd be thrilled if the event picked up momentum in other areas and AIA Chapters. There is nothing official yet, but I'm hopeful that we'll see other Barkitecture events popping back up in the near future and I'd love to have a part in getting those chapters established so we can spread the outreach even further and help more pets in need.














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