Location Milpitas, CA
Size 48,000 square feet
Completed 2009
Program Animal-care and -adoption programs, exercise areas, one-acre dog park, entry plaza, and an outdoor café
Awards Honorable Mention, Santa Clara Valley Site Design and Low Impact Development Awards, 2010

A modern animal shelter that deals with receiving and holding animals, solving their medical issues, and creating a pleasant experience for potential pet adopters is more akin to a hospital than many might think. Given this reality, Swatt Miers Architects struck a receptive chord in the early 1990s with a groundbreaking shelter in Oakland that employed sustainable practices while creating an environment that encouraged animal lovers to visit. Here, architect George Miers talks to gb&d about why the firm’s Humane Society Silicon Valley project was ripe for LEED certification.

How did your firm develop expertise in designing animal shelters?

George Miers: In the early ’80s I designed animal-care exhibits for the Knowland Park Zoo in Oakland, California, including the chimpanzee exhibit, and collaborated with Jane Goodall, which was certainly one of the highlights of my career. Later in 1988, we designed an animal shelter as part of the Antioch Police Facility. This was the era of The Lady and the Tramp’s ‘dog pound,’ and what expertise there was focused on drains and cleaning and not creating a people-friendly facility focused on adoption and education or on humane habitats for animals. That experience resulted in an efficient and well-laid-out facility in a very public setting. After its completion, we were contacted by the Oakland SPCA to change the image of animal shelters.


Architect Swatt Miers Architects
Client Humane Society Silicon Valley
General Contractor Robert L. Brown Construction

Are animal facilities typically big energy-users?

Miers: The key issue with animal shelters that house at-risk animals … is cross-contamination and disease transfer. You need to be able to constantly wash down the habitats and make sure that airborne viruses do not spread.

You do this by bringing in only outside air—so there is no recirculated air like you find in an office building—and do about 10 air changes per hour. That’s a lot of air to heat and cool. While there are other alternatives such as ultraviolet lights in return air ducts that would reduce energy costs, most clients are reluctant to incorporate systems that are not guaranteed to have 100 percent positive results.


Certification LEED Gold
Renewable Energy On-site solar array generates 30% of building’s lighting-energy needs
Mechanical Heat-recovery wheels capture and reuse air during ventilation cycles
Exterior Cladding Corrugated metal panels offer high solar reflectivity and help reduce energy needs
Water An efficient kennel-cleaning system helps conserve water; overall water use is reduced by 80 percent
Landscape On-site bioswales are used to treat storm water

What factors made the Humane Society Silicon Valley project a good candidate for LEED Gold certification?

Miers: The Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) had an exceptionally enlightened executive director and board of directors that were in tune to the idea that caring about the environment was akin to caring about animals. This perspective, along with the organization being in the heart of Silicon Valley where sustainability and energy efficiency are desired (if not required), made this project a prime candidate to be a green facility.

Animal shelters as a building type are one of the most difficult to meet LEED requirements due to the need for durable materials that hold up to chemical cleaning and the need for such a high level of outside air changes. Hospitals, which share many of these issues, have their own LEED category which accommodates these special needs. But shelters must meet the same criteria as office buildings. It’s almost an even more noble undertaking when an animal shelter can meet that criterion because it’s got the cards stacked against it. The [HSSV] facility earned 45 LEED points.

Are there particular materials or products you use to create a healthy animal environment?

Miers: One of the key components of LEED is water conservation, while one of the big utility uses of animal shelters is water for cleaning cages. The ability to use an efficient, low-water-use cleaning system is important. Spray Masters Technology out of Arkansas makes the best chemical cleaning power-wash system.

Lake State Industries, a small Minnesota company that we discovered when we were designing the Edmonton Humane Society, makes stainless steel cages. Stainless steel is a good recyclable material, but its real value is in cleaning and sterilization to control disease transfer.

Twenty years after changing animal care for the better, Swatt Miers Architects designed the Humane Society Silicon Valley, the first such building to be LEED Gold certified.