our animals, our friends COMMUNITY-BASED PRACTICE AT MPS

Design Philosophy

McMillan Pazdan Smith places great value in being of service to society in many ways. In each of our studios – community, healthcare, K-12 education, higher education, and corporate – the initial discussion of every project begins with some variation of this question:

"In what ways can the successful completion of this particular built environment contribute to the greater good of the community?"

This central question lies at the heart of our volunteer spirit and pro-bono work.


When Cary Perkins, AIA, sets out to provide design services for the animal shelters of our local, protective societies, her interest always begins with understanding the basic necessities and then works outward toward embracing the humane qualities of architecture. Often working with limited resources but buoyed by the common purpose of a design and construction team focused on providing life-affirming qualities to our most vulnerable pets, Cary was able to lead the process of bringing the award winning Greenville Humane Society into full operation, followed shortly thereafter by the Aiken County Animal Shelter. She continues to redefine the practice of community-based design by discovering creative solutions to everyday issues.


The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) prepared a thoroughgoing set of guidelines for the administration and management of animal shelters that outlines standards of care and design. These standards are framed in the ethical context of “the five freedoms” declared by the ASV: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

The ASV Guide goes on to describe standards for “facilities design and environment” that address everyday issues falling within five general categories.

  1. Primary enclosure: the building should demonstrate a welcoming atmosphere that encourages and educates potential pet owners
  2. Surfaces and drainage: all materials and equipment should be durable with smooth surfaces that reduce injury and are easy to maintain
  3. HVAC and air quality: air quality and waste removal are fundamental issues that help promote healthful conditions
  4. Light: where possible, protected natural light combined with natural ventilation offers the best solution to animal safety and easy of care
  5. Sound control: acoustic considerations lead to a healthier environment for animals and help boost adoption rates since potential adoptive families are more likely to spend additional time getting to know pets in a quiet, calm and comfortable atmosphere

Working with guidelines + standards of this sort provides the chance to explore creative solutions with seasoned animal care professionals to ensure that a basic level of performance will not only be met but also exceeded. This was the case in our work with the client group and constructors in the Greenville , Aiken and Charlotte projects.

Greenville, South Carolina

The Greenville Humane Society is a private, no-kill shelter that enjoys enlightened leadership and a dedicated staff of care providers and volunteers. Their aim was to create a welcoming, bright and cheerful setting for families to meet and, hopefully, adopt animals. The center has been extremely successful and enjoys an exceptional adoption rate along with a well-deserved reputation for excellent care.

The center is designed with an intentionally limited kennel area that helps to reduce noise and confusion. It is light and airy, with smooth surfaces that are easy to scrub down and drain. As they enter through the porch and into the lobby, families are greeted by super-graphic images of friendly pets, welcoming textures and unexpected colors. Basic vet services are accommodated behind the scenes in a handsome, clinical environment.

The center goes well beyond it’s original aims and is currently in the second phase of design that includes the renovation of flexible existing spaces as well as the addition of a new veterinary clinic along with additional animal holding rooms . Outdoor space, an essential ingredient to the community-centered experience of the place, will undergo further design attention.

Aiken, South Carolina

The Aiken Animal Shelter is a public facility that provides a holding center for the animals of the county. The shelter has strong leadership supported by a modest staff and a small contingent of local volunteers. In this case, it was necessary for the building itself to perform much of the day-to-day work as effortlessly as possible.

The three-part plan sets two open-air kennel wings astride the central adoption + clinical procedures facility. The parts are connected by covered walkways that flank courtyard spaces providing natural ventilation and ready access to outdoor spaces for meetings between families and pets.

All of this has led to a center that far exceeds its goals for adoption. Animal holding areas arranged in small pods afford the important qualities of less noise, easy maintenance and natural air quality. The pods of ten dogs have become a feature of the program in which it is possible to advertise special adoption opportunities such as “black dog days” from time to time. (Black dogs are inexplicably less attractive to adopt.) Here, indeed, is evidence of creative design for everyday circumstance that has been elevated to a higher form of art.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Cary’s most recently completed project is a veterinary hospital with procedure and surgery centers, located in Charlotte. Armed with an in-depth understanding of the breadth and central spirit of the ASV Guidelines + Standards, she has gained confidence in the most important skill that is the basis for design leadership: the ability to ask the right questions. While a veterinary hospital is a completely different form of care than the humane society and animal shelter, the same ethical framework guides the design process. As Cary puts it:
“We’ve been fortunate to work with some pretty great veterinarians who love to share what they know. But there are differences in their attitudes – one is very particular about how the clinical suites are laid out while another is not so structured. There are some pretty basic, standard issues to be addressed that apply to all situations, but there is so much that you have to know in order to ask the right questions and lead the conversation. That’s what we’re getting good at right now. This sets up a sort of common ground for the design team.”


Anthropologists define culture as our shared values and beliefs. As an integral part of the communities we serve, McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture shares the values that insist upon the humane treatment of all people and their animals. As a firm, we stand behind each of our architects as they venture out into nearby communities in order for our design work to become imbedded in the local culture. Cary’s thoughtful dedication to the design of the basic need for shelter helps us better understand the importance of architecture on the most elementary level.

Created By
Cary Perkins

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.