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Coop Dreams

Switching coasts from Brooklyn to Portland gave architects Mitchell Snyder and Shelley Martin a new set of unexpected clients: three young hens.

Snyder and Martin's move brought about an entirely different lifestyle--one that involved a house, a yard, and for Snyder, the chance to launch his own firm, Mitchell Snyder Architecture, after first acquainting himself to Portland, Oregon, as a designer at Scott Edwards Architecture. His first project on his own: a chicken coop for the couple's new feathery friends.

When architect Mitchell Snyder launched his eponymous firm in 2009, his goal was to take more creative liberties and ownership of his projects. Little did he expect, however, that his first clients would be a demanding set of chickens.

In 2007, Snyder and his girlfriend, Shelley Martin, moved from Brooklyn to a 1924 craftsman bungalow in Portland, Oregon. “We were so excited 
to have a yard and a garden,” Snyder recalls. Martin, who is an architectural designer, put her green thumb to work, and in little time they had lettuce, radishes, snap peas, onions, carrots, potatoes, and other produce poking up through the soil. Then, a good friend and fellow New York transplant opened an organic farm supply store in town. “She got us excited about having chickens as an extension of our garden,” Snyder says. Soon, he was drafting plans in Google SketchUp for a backyard chicken coop.

The coop grew out of the garden. "We were so excited to have a yard," Snyder recalls. Martin started growing a vegetable bed and soon a friend and owner of Naomi's Organic Farm Supply suggested hens. "She got us excited about having chickens as an extension of our garden," Snyder says.

Hens as clients, Snyder learned, are not too different from humans. “They have the same considerations of comfort and protection from the elements,” he says. “Each one has a certain square-footage requirement. The coop has to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There needs to be ventilation.” Then, there were the legal and ethical obligations: Portland permits each household up to three hens (no roosters), and chicken-raising guides recommend that each chicken be given two square feet in the coop and four square feet in the run.
Portland permits each household up to three hens (no roosters), and in February 2009, Snyder had the plans in the works in Google SketchUp. Around the same time, the duo also got their chicks, housing them under lamps in the basement until the coop was completed. "We didn't know what they were going to be like," Snyder says. "But we didn't just get them for the eggs; they're really fun as pets, too."

Snyder’s resulting design is an insulated four-foot cube framed with two-by-fours, sheathed with oriented strand board (OSB), finished with reclaimed cedar siding, ventilated with two upper windows, and topped with a bed of native Oregon sedum plants. “The living roof helps keep the coop cool, but mostly it was a chance to experiment and design something fun,” he says. The only thing Snyder would change, in retrospect, is the human 
access: “We have to crouch down a little to go through the run and into the coop to clean it.”

But the hens—a Bantam Frizzle named Da’ Frizzle Fo’ Shizzle, a Barred Plymouth Rock named Barred Rock Obama, and a yet-unnamed rescue from a neighbor—seem happy. They’re healthy and keep busy with their duties, namely “eating and digging around for food, which they take very seriously,” Snyder says. And in return, the chickens have bestowed their thanks: nearly an egg per hen per day. Fortunately for Snyder and Martin, they have plenty of friends happy to share a scramble.

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