Though I may be a bit biased, as an architect specializing in equestrian design for the past 25 years, I can’t help but babble on and on about the merits of custom designed equestrian facilities over kit or prefab barns. For the sake of the readers, I’ll try to remain brief.
Experience—Kit barns are based off the idealistic notion that “one size fits all.” Sure, there are various models and sizes, but these barns aren’t designed with your particular needs, the needs of your site, or the needs of your horses in mind so much as they are mass-produced to sell, sell, sell. Cost is a factor no matter what the budget—at what cost is it worth risking the health and safety of the horse? Throughout my experience in master planning, designing, and consulting for equestrian facilities, I’ve realized that no two barns are run the same. In my opinion, that means a carbon-copied barn just might lead to fuzzy operations.
As Custom As You Like—It’s true that custom design is more expensive than a prefab or kit barn. Still, the actual pricing varies incredibly depending on the types of finishes, overall size, details, and amenities you seek. For those of you who have envisioned a “dream barn” for years, or crave the details missing in kit barns, custom design covers all the bases. For some, utilizing architectural services for building placement—called site or master plan design—can even help a prefab barn operate successfully. For others, a master plan is the first step before designing a custom barn that reflects its environment and the functionality of the entire farm as well as the individual needs of the owners and his/her horses.
Attention to Safety—I’m a broken record when it comes to this saying, but here it goes: If given an opportunity, a horse will find a way to injure itself. As far as I see it, it’s my obligation to ensure that all of my designs protect the horse to the greatest extent possible. This means no protruding objects on the walls (not even a light switch!), only horse-friendly surfaces, and analyzing traffic patterns on the farm in order to place buildings to aid daily operations—for starters.
Seeing Green—Eco-friendly design isn’t more important than ever. It’s just getting more attention than ever—and it’s about time. While I’m a proponent for solar panels on each and every barn in America (seriously, the potential is huge), there is an abundance of simple and cost-effective ways to “green” your barn.
Throughout the years, Blackburn designed barns have relied on principles of passive design in order to capture the natural powers of the wind and sun to the barn’s advantage. By encouraging vertical ventilation through design, barns can stay cool in the summer, moderate in the winter, and dissipate the spread of harmful pathogens and gasses year round. Skylights and clerestory windows allow abundant natural light to flood the barn. A rainwater harvesting or greywater system, light-colored roofing, and low VOC paints and finishes are other options to maximize the eco-factor in your barn.
A New Blend—If my profession has taught me anything, it’s that flexibility is key. After all, design is about discovering solutions and rethinking the norm. With this in mind, I recently introduced a line of four pre-designed barn models as more budget-friendly alternative to custom design. Called Blackburn greenbarns™, these barns marry the ever-important attention to detail along with an all-green game plan. The barns feature passive design, green materials and finishes, and additional systems such as those solar panels of which I am so fond.
The Bottom Line—Just like various barn protocol, custom design is not for everyone. Nevertheless, the qualities that set custom design apart from kits and prefabs should be kept in mind despite your budget or the size of the project. Health and safety details are paramount if you seek to build a barn worthy of its precious inhabitants. Simply recessing all of the fixtures is a huge step towards protecting your animals. The relevance of a master plan will never fade in my book: if you can, consult an architect or landscape architect who has experience designing for horses to help you plan your farm or ranch thoughtfully to avoid future “surprises,” which tend to be costly mistakes that might have been avoided.