The Scoop on the Coop: North Studio Completes Final Project

By Adam Keller, Features Editor
Monday, May 6, 2013

What if the final projects you worked on for your classes were not a steady grind of academic papers, but rather intricate works of practical design? For the members of this semester’s Architecture II class with Assistant Professor of Art Elijah Huge, this fantasy is a lived reality. Many members of this class expect to stay at school into senior week to complete work on the chicken coop they have been designing and building all semester.

Once constructed and installed on Long Lane Farm, the chicken coop will be able to hold 20 chickens. These potential chickens will then lay eggs that Bon Appétit will be able to serve at Usdan. Far from your stereotypical mini-shack, the coop has been specially designed to give the chickens outdoor mobility and maximum comfort.

North Studio, which houses Wesleyan’s Architecture program, has won multiple American Institute of Architects awards and had previous years’ projects appear in a variety of architecture magazines. Huge explained that the main project of the University’s Architecture II class is to contract, conceive, and build a large-scale building and/or landscape project.

“Typically, we do one of these projects with a local government agency or nonprofit every year,” Huge said. “This is the second time we’ve ever worked with the University…we’ve worked with the Audubon Society, we’ve worked with Connecticut Forest and Parks.”

Architecture II has been tailoring the coop since the beginning of the semester to fit Long Lane Farm’s needs. From the beginning, a degree of mobility for the coop was a high priority so that the chickens would be able to move around the farm. Therefore, in the first several months of the semester, the class split into three groups that each designed coops based on varying levels of movement: one for weekly movement, one for seasonal movement, and a stationary model that was ultimately chosen for practical reasons. Kelly Lee ’14 explained the different options.

“Weekly movement was basically a bunch of little module boxes that you stack together, move together,” Lee said. “The second option, seasonal movement, was a big coop that was a cylinder that you would physically roll every couple months. The fixed coop, which is the one that was chosen, is this S-shaped polycarbonate wall, which is this plastic material used in greenhouses…In one curve, there’s the coop, in the other curve, there’s the chicken range, and [the structure allows for] movement in between.”

Huge described this design as bringing together the two main locations of a chicken’s life.

“One of the things that the studio had really worked hard to do is to integrate the coop itself and the run,” Huge said. “Chickens need both a place to reach their nest and feel protected, and a place to run around during the day…We [conceived] the coop and the run to be visually integrated, to feel like they’re part of one holistic, organic whole.”

Other features of the coop include a slanted roof to prevent accumulation of snow and debris and a door that allows farmers to feed the chickens and collect eggs from the coop without entering the structure.

Although the end of the coop’s construction is in sight, its completion was not always assured. At the beginning of the semester, the administration gave the class the go-ahead to construct a coop that would house 50 chickens. In March, the students proposed the coop to Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts, who went on to suggest the formation of the Long Lane Farm Advisory Committee to oversee the project’s development.

In middle of the semester, the coop ran into some roadblocks: According to several students in the class, the administration threatened to pull the class’s funding. Nick Devane ’13 stated that the issue was primarily over the coop’s sustainability and efficacy.

“There were a couple of concerns because in the past [Long Lane has] had chickens, and they’d froze to death over wintertime,” Devane said. “They were hesitant to do it because they didn’t think it would be effective, I guess.”

There were also concerns over the coop related to the morality of housing chickens. Some members of the Wesleyan community were opposed to the coop based on ethical grounds. Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen maintained that keeping chickens on Wesleyan’s campus for food production purposes was problematic.

“I am concerned about bringing animals to campus and killing them here,” Gruen wrote in an email to The Argus. “Ending the life of another being who has her own life to live raises profound emotional, social, and ethical issues. It isn’t the construction of the coop that raises the issues, it is keeping live animals (that must be done carefully and humanely under the guidance of experts and an oversight committee) and then killing them that raise issues. My view is that the only ethically defensible way to have live chickens at Wesleyan, is if there is a clear system of responsible, knowledgeable care and oversight and that the farm should commit to allowing the hens to live out their natural lives.”

All of the current members of Architecture II maintained that they take the ethics of animal living conditions seriously and that the coop will serve the chickens’ best interests.

“They’re not for meat, obviously,” Lee said. “The issue is what you do with the chickens after they can’t lay eggs anymore, that’s really where the philosophical issue is.”

“Any industrial chicken operation is incredibly inhumane,” Devane added. “It’s not like these chickens are going to go somewhere more humane if we don’t build this chicken coop. In reality, we’re following the strictest standards for how you’re supposed to be hospitable.”

“We spent, like, two hardcore weeks in the beginning of the semester just studying the psychology of chickens,” Lee said.

“We know our chickens well, and we’re giving them the full amount in terms of even what the experts say the chicken needs in order to be comfortable,” Devane said.

After months of conceptual work, North Studio is currently in the process of constructing the actual coop at Long Lane. Whether the coop receives chickens, however, remains to be seen.

“The Long Lane Farm Advisory Committee has met and will continue to meet throughout the summer to address questions and concerns surrounding the chicken project,” Sustainability Coordinator Jen Kleindienst wrote in an email to The Argus. “If the Committee is able to come to consensus, we may recommend to John Meerts that chickens be approved.”

Despite their current uncertainty of whether or not the chickens will move into the coop, the students at North Studio are excited to have it all finally come together.

“It was a lot of fun to break ground and start putting in the foundations,” Devane said. “Particularly from Architecture I to now, you’re building all these models and it’s not materializing in an actual architectural sense, so it’s really cool to be actually building something and seeing all of those ideas materialize a little bit more.”