An Architect’s Guide to Raising Chickens

One of the ideas trending up among the design community is personal, small-scale chicken coops. This is an excellent development, because let’s face it, fresh, organic eggs are splendidly delicious.

However, the reality of raising chickens is perhaps less dignifying than the layman might immediately register. So, before you run off to buy a coop, chicken feed, and a clutch of little poultry dinosaurs, consider these important truths:

  • A flock may average one to two eggs per day, per chicken.
  • It is important to supply fresh water, for producing eggs can easily dehydrate your chickens.
  • Simply put, chickens are stupid and dirty, so don’t expect to have one as a pet. It’s just bad business.
  • Chickens need separate spaces for egg laying, roosting/sleeping, walking/digging space.
  • Their food and water should be covered, while at the same time, accessible.
  • Chickens need light to produce eggs. During the winter, it may be necessary to provide a full spectrum lamp throughout the night to keep up production.

Don’t let these needs deter you, please! Raising your own flock of egg-layers can be very beneficial and quite fun. Like any endeavor, it simply requires time, thought and a little space.

Ah, yes. We have arrived there at last; space. What kind of space you say? This depends, obviously, on many things. However, in the interest of staying your snores, have a look at this example, which may help you see how a chicken coop design (like most design work) is generated from the needs of its clients, i.e. the little cluckers.

Chicken Coop_perspective

This coop appears to be rather straight forward at first; a simple, elevated wood box. There is, however, an incredible amount of thought put into the details. If we dig, we will find a method in the madness.

As you can see from this perspective, the coop is raised off the ground a bit. The reason for this is to keep the chickens out of reach from predators at night. Don’t worry, they will be outside for most of the day if given the option, but chickens usually prefer to make their way back inside around nightfall. This height protects them from exposure to predators who might dig under to get at them.

Also, note there is a hinged door that opens down. This is access to the food and water compartments. Chickens obviously need to be able to reach their food and water, but are bad about contaminating their supply. With the setup shown, holes in the bottom of the plywood box give the chickens access to eat and drink while denying them the inevitable misuse of their water bucket as a bird bath.

Lastly, here we can begin to see the arrangement of the perches in an upward layout protruding from the side of the coop. The protrusion is merely aesthetic, but in the section below we can better understand the function in their arrangement.

chicken coop design

The circular perches are arranged diagonally upward to give space below for a door, to give height in the coop (because chickens like to be high…), and to allow for more perch space. The perches need to be spaced at a certain distance.  Instead of elongating the coop floor plan, we move them slightly upward just like floors in a tall building.

Another feature is the nesting box located on top of the food and water storage. Chickens like to be elevated when nesting, which gives them a sense of security. The box is located low enough to be accessible, but high enough to give privacy and “protection”. Speaking of protection, notice how the floor of the nest is sloped toward the door panel behind? As you might have guessed, this serves the dual function of rolling the eggs away from the edge of the nest, while also allowing them to be more easily collected from behind.

There is a taller door under the perches for access into the underside of the coop, and to let the chickens outside. The ladder to the underside can be made to fold up and cover the opening, effectively sealing the chickens inside. With the exterior door closed and the ladder down, the chickens have access to the ground and to bugs without complete exposure.

Chicken Coop_sect perspective

It is important to understand exactly how much a design, whether of a skyscraper or a knitted shirt, is heavily influenced by the functional needs of its users. Even a simple chicken coop can exemplify this. Keep in mind that this coop example will easily hold a flock of ten or more chickens. By showing you a slightly larger coop,  it is much easier to understand the basic concepts to design a smaller, functional design.

Now that you have been presented with the basics for housing chickens, the task of raising your own might not seem so daunting. There are hundreds of coop designs, but perhaps it will be fun, challenging, and more rewarding to develop your own. Whatever you choose to do, always keep in mind the basic needs for a healthy flock.

Happy chicken raising!



  1. Debra snook

    greetings, I wonder if you built this coop.. and how it’s working? 2) if you would make any modifications if re building..?

  2. I have not had this particular coop built. The client I designed it for, changed their mind in favor of a mobile coop with an open bottom so the birds could fertilize the ground underneath. You can see it here:
    If you do decide to build the coop I would love to see pictures!
    Happy raising!

  3. eric hepburn

    I don’t understand from the image/diagram how the chickens get access to the food/water area…

    • Hi Eric, good observation. My images do not adequately explain this mechanism. The food and water is accessed from inside the coop, underneath the storage box. Holes would be cut to give the chickens access to water nozzles installed on the bottom of the water bucket, similar to those used for hamsters. For the food, a simple trough is mounted to the bottom of the feed box. As the chickens consume the feed, more food drops into the trough. It’s designed this way to keep the birds from getting into and thus contaminating the food or water. Hope this helps!

  4. Sam

    Would you share the Sketchup or CAD file for this coop? I would like to make it (with some modifications), and will of course send you a picture!

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