Designing a Pet Paradise

Working within the theme of “animal architecture,” Girl Scouts and their leaders designed a pet paradise in June under the direction of volunteers with the Iowa Architectural Foundation. This is the second year of STEM programming offered by IAF to the Girl Scouts, one of many community outreach opportunities offered by IAF. The creative curriculum was developed by IAF Architecture in the Schools Committee co-chair Michelle (Sacco) Cunliffe, AIA, of RDG Planning & Design.

“The biggest goal is to expose the girls to the type of work we do each day and to give them the opportunity to interact with a variety of designers,” said Cunliffe, who thanked the volunteers that made the programming possible. IAF volunteers included Annamarie Snider (OPN), Tina Rhodes (FRK), Dawn Thorpe (Thorpe Monk Design), Cristina Rodriguez (Imprint Architects), Kayla Berkson (BNIM), Edd Soenke (The Design Partnership), and Rachel Williams (The Weidt Group).

The dozen Girl Scouts, who ranged from fourth grade through sixth grade, gathered at RDG’s office to work in groups on a home design for one of three animal “clients” – ferret, sugar glider, and gecko. IAF volunteers from a variety of design occupations acted as the ‘clients’ and led the groups in a compressed design process of research, schematic design, and design development.

The girls started with a research phase and sought to understand their pet clients’ needs. “The goal was for the girls need to understand what is important to their client so they can create a good design. Is their client social? Do they have big families? Are they nocturnal?” said Cunliffe.

During the schematic design rotation, the girls worked together to come up with a design best for their client. The volunteers encouraged working through various sketches before committing to a more “formal” drawing to present to their clients. Each team elected a spokeswoman to present the schematic design, and the clients offered feedback that was both encouraging and also included constructive criticism. Changes to the scope of work was also a part of the learning process. “The volunteers were encouraged to change their mind about what they wanted designed – we wanted the girls to experience what we go through in real life with our own clients!” said Cunliffe.

The design development phase allowed the girls to make revisions to their design based on the feedback they received from their clients. Using pencils, crayons, and oversized paper, they finalized their pet playgrounds before presenting them.

Cunliffe plans to develop a third design curriculum for 2018, which can then be used in rotation by IAF in its outreach with youth. Last year IAF partnered with Girl Scouts to offer a hands-on design class that led the Scouts to sculpt a to-scale “mini me” of themselves out of clay and build a model of their dream home out of recycled materials.

Get involved today! Contact Claudia Cackler at to volunteer with IAF’s youth outreach.