Beth Herman’s article about the renovations at Sagamore Farm is published in today’s DCmud. I get a huge smile on my face just thinking about Sagamore and hope you do too after reading the story. The farm is a Maryland landmark and I am grateful that Blackburn has been trusted to contribute to the farm’s storied history.
As a kid in Tennessee, I grew up around horses, though I had no interest in properly riding them. That I left to my twin sister, who kept her Tennessee Walker named Dixie in a neighbor’s barn. For me, playing in the barn’s loft for days on end in the summer was much more appealing.
I left Tennessee for Clemson University (B.A. Architecture, 1969), where I developed an interest in designing buildings inspired by context, environment, and function: I became a student of the philosophy that “form follows function.” There was no doubt in my mind that I had left horses and the barn behind. After all, I never aspired to be an equestrian architect. I was a student of urban design. Ironically, over 25 years later, I earn a living designing equestrian facilities across the country. That is because a single interview changed my life.
Following graduate school (Washington University in St. Louis, M.A. in Urban Design, 1973), I relocated to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of its urban and robust economy as a place to possibly support a future architectural practice. My former colleague, Robbie Smith, and I began “moonlighting” on small side projects together and decided to create our own firm. As young architects, we’d happily take any project we could get our hands on. So, when Robbie received a phone call from a friend in the summer of 1983 about a fairly large potential horse project in Upperville, Virginia, we jumped. Forget that we had never designed a horse farm, or, for that matter, any other building of size of significance on our own. We had nothing to lose.
Preparation began for the big interview. We learned that the owner, Robert H. Smith (no relation to my partner, Robbie Smith), selected the renowned landscape architect Morgan Wheelock of Boston to plan the farm. Together, the owner and Wheelock sought an architect to design the farm structures to fit within the well-known Upperville and Middleburg, Virginia context.
Typically, during an interview you review your firm’s portfolio of completed projects with the potential client. This was not an option for Robbie and me — we’d have to approach this interview differently. Since Robbie was from Middleburg, he was familiar with the area’s building types. He spent a few days photographing various buildings in the area — forms, materials, and shapes — that represented Middleburg or Upperville in any way. Barns were certainly photographed, but we also considered residences, commercial structures, and other miscellaneous structures relevant. With plenty of images to inspire us, we selected a number of key examples. Many of these buildings were perhaps a hundred years old and probably weren’t designed by an architect. However, we felt they strongly represented the area. We took the photographs and projected the slides on the wall of our small office, traced over them, and transferred the images to illustration boards to serve as our “portfolio” presentation.
I’m not aware of what the other interviewing firms presented, but ours did not include a single building we designed or were designed by any architect, for that matter. Our presentation documented the context of the area in a series of hand-drawn sketches — but, at least, if the owner’s farm were to “fit” into the context, these were the shapes, forms, materials, and scale they should have.
We were hired immediately. Suddenly, we found ourselves with seven buildings to design with no staff in an unfurnished office space in a third-floor walkup in Georgetown — and we weren’t about to complain. We were embarking on a project that would change our lives.
Our client, Robert H. Smith, was a very successful developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While he had owned thoroughbred horses for several years, he stabled them at other farms or the track. Now he was ready to start a thoroughbred breeding operation, having acquired approximately 400 acres in Upperville, adjacent to the famous Rokeby Farm (owned by Paul Mellon) on one side and Route 50 on the other. Also included within the property were the grounds to the Upperville Horse Show, the oldest functioning horse show grounds in the United States.
Morgan Wheelock, the landscape architect, brought a background in designing horse farms to the project: with it, his theory that barn design, as well as the farm layout, should be driven by a paramount concern for the health and safety of the horse. The way the building is viewed and placed in the landscape, Wheelock believes, is as important as the design of the building itself. That’s because both the farm layout and the barn design impact the health and safety of the horse; concerns possibly even more apparent when operating a breeding facility for thoroughbreds.
Barns are often perceived as dark, dusty, and uninviting buildings. However, it’s also widely understood among equestrians that the best environment for a horse beyond the great outdoors is an environment that inspires just that. Wheelock bridged these inconsistencies with a design theory that focused on creating natural light and ventilation within the barn. It was a revelation. While the concepts Wheelock professed were simple, they worked — and beautifully — at our first barns at Heronwood Farm.
I wanted to repost this previous blog entry because the July 2011 issue of Cowboy & Indians Magazine features this party barn adaptive-reuse project. You can also read about the bank barn project online. We are thrilled to be a part of this esteemed publication and hope you can pick up a copy and let us know what you think.
With all of the depressing economic news right now, I think practicing a little “escapism” is in order. So I’d like to talk about something that’s not exactly practical in the traditional sense, but is all around fun. What am I getting at? Party barns.
“Party barns,” are becoming more popular by the day. For the uninitiated, a party barn is the result of transforming an old, battered and bruised barn into something very un-barn-like in use but still very much “barn-like.” It can be in the form of a guesthouse, an entertaining area, or an in-law suite—pretty much wherever your imagination leads you. We’ve even had clients approach us with opportunities to “save” old barns to become performing arts centers, bed and breakfast accommodations, restaurants, and more.
The opportunities are limitless, but the idea is the same: take something old and readapt it toward a new use. This type of work, called “adaptive reuse,” can occur in forms beyond barns, but let’s stick with just party barns for now.
One barn that turned out particularly well for its owners, dubbed the “Bank Barn,” is located in Leesburg, Virginia. The original structure dates back to the 1800s and was in such bad shape there were gaping holes in the walls. Much of the wood was rotten and the whole barn sagged. Despite its poor conditions, the barn was clearly a beauty and well worth being salvaged—something the owners innately recognized—and I was lucky enough to help.
To me, the best part of a project like this is being able to watch the barn undergo such a significant transformation. Currently, we have a project in Ohio for a family who seek to readapt a German-style bank barn that fell into serious decay into a private family entertaining space. The owners can’t wait to host their next Thanksgiving dinner in the barn.
I thought it might be interesting for you to “watch” the barn’s progress over the next few months. I’ll post photos of the “before” look of the barn as well as some photos throughout the construction process. In the meantime, here are a few of the Bank Barn—both “before” and “after.” While this type of project may not be something many can do right now, you may look at an old structure sitting on your property just a little differently—and hopefully think twice before tearing it down.
Blackburn Architects is so grateful to be a part of Kevin Plank’s dream to revitalize the horse racing industry in Maryland through his work at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon. We hope you’ll enjoy these articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Mr. Plank’s impressive ambitions for the historic farm and to elevate Maryland’s racing industry clout. We believe that if anyone can do it, it’s Mr. Plank. Congratulations to the whole team at Sagamore Farm, whose All Mettle won Pimlico’s $30,000 maiden special weight race in only her second career start!
Blackburn Architects is grateful to be a part of Kevin Plank’s dream to revitalize the horse racing industry in Maryland through his work at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon. We hope you’ll enjoy these articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post about Mr. Plank’s impressive ambitions for the historic farm and to elevate Maryland’s racing industry clout. We believe that if anyone can do it, it’s Mr. Plank. Congratulations to the whole team at Sagamore Farm, whose All Mettle won Pimlico’s $30,000 maiden special weight race in only her second career start!
Seemingly, about a foot of snow buried the construction site at Beechwood Stables, a future barn and arena in Massachusetts at any given point from December through March.
Since then, as the weather in Massachusetts grows milder, the construction at this private farm (a project in association with Marcus Gleysteen Architects) is finally taking a shape other than a snowdrift. In the works are a 12-stall barn, a storage facility with recreation and lounge space, and an indoor arena with an observation lounge.
As foundation and underground work began over a winter season that yielded 60 inches or so of snow in the Boston area (with January 2011 alone dropping 38 inches), well…I’m sure you’re not surprised to read that delays were bit of a problem. By the end of the winter, there may have been more snow removal than soil stockpiled on the job site!
Even on April Fool’s Day (go figure), the area received a dusting of the white stuff. That’s why I couldn’t be more pleased for this patient client of ours as we approach the warmer months. Work at the private farm has progressed smoothly ever since the steel and timber arrived in early April; see the progress in the following photographs.
As you might expect with such a substantial project, we gave much consideration to the structural work and foundation. Specifically, we needed to determine how to erect and tie together stone column bases that weighed approximately 200 lbs. each and 21-ft. tall timber columns while allowing for enough movement to install the beams and rafters. In the end, the collaboration and discussion on how best to detail this connection took longer than it did to actually assemble, thanks to the efficient crew at New Energy Works and the careful planning between Kenneth Vona Construction (general contractor) and DeStefano & Chamberlain (structural engineer). I’m happy to report that the bases and timber columns went up without so much as a groan.
Following that, steel columns and perimeter beams were set in about two days; the timber frame for the barn and connecting link took a little over a week. Since then, the contractor has been busy working on the barn framing, preparing all of the openings for sheathing, and the steel fabricator has assembled all of the steel rafters and is completing final welds. Within about a month, the walls of the barn and connecting link will be complete and the roof work will begin. Assuming the weather behaves, of course.
In the meantime, timber for the arena observation room and support spaces is being fabricated along with the SIPs (structural insulated panels) that will cover two-thirds of the project.
So, here’s to spring weather and speedy progress on an exciting project that we hope the owner and their horses will soon enjoy!
I wanted to share an oldie but goodie – an article I wrote originally for Western Horseman Magazine about designing for natural ventilation within your barn. This stuff is the bread and butter of our design, in that no matter where a barn is located, or what a client’s budget may be, healthy and natural ventilation within the stables is our priority. Read the article, Breath of Fresh Air, and let me know what you think.
We’ve started a Facebook page for Blackburn Architects, which is a one-stop shop for all of our equestrian news, events, and projects. Please visit us and feel free to post questions about your next architecture project, equestrian design, party barn conversions… we’ll do our best to answer any and all!
Navigating codes and permit issues can create confusion and headaches for clients who seek to build a horse barn in a state or municipality that lacks special classification for agricultural buildings. Several states, including Pennsylvania, offer building permit exemption if a horse barn can be classified as an agricultural building. This usually means that the barn is privately owned and used and is not a place of employment or residence. If a jurisdiction does not allow a horse barn to be classified as “agricultural,” the property and its buildings are subjected to rather excessive restrictions. (I should note that agricultural buildings still must meet the established zoning and building code requirements.) At Blackburn Architects, we run into excessive restrictions in many states and local jurisdictions if the equestrian facility cannot be classified as agricultural.
That’s why when I came across the following article about a horse farm owner in Pennsylvania, I knew I had to share it. Ron Samsel, the owner, simply wanted to build a private horse barn for his friends and family to enjoy. Instead, he entered a battle with his township that landed them both in court: all over a building permit. While Samsel eventually won the case– his horse barn was declared an agricultural enterprise and, therefore, a building permit was not required– he spent a large chunk of time and money fighting a battle against the township he felt was acting irrationally and irresponsibly.
The court ruling may set a precedent for similar cases or disputes, of which I’d guess there are many, in Pennsylvania and possibly even surrounding states. I am glad attention has been brought to this issue and can only hope for greater clarity and consistency in what has become a convoluted issue for many equestrians who seek to build a horse barn to call their own.
EXCERPT FROM PENNSYLVANIAN EQUESTRIAN
Considering this nightmare, Samsel says he can understand why individuals rarely seem to fight township rulings, even when the townships are clearly wrong. “The townships always win because they push the little guy out,” he says. Each time he won his case in court, the township was given 30 days to appeal the decision. Each time, the township waited until the 29th day to announce that they would appeal.
I’m always proud to watch Blackburn designers excel in their work, even after leaving the firm. That’s why I have to share that one of our former project designers, who left the firm to earn his Masters in Architecture at the University of Virginia, is a finalist in the “Who’s Next” design contest run by Free Green.
As part of a team of UVA grad students called ReSource 7 (they also offer design services in the Charlottesville area), the design made the top 50 from over 400 overall entries. The next phase of the competition is a public vote, which will be worth 25% of the final judging scores.
The contest challenged designers to create a 1,600 square foot residential design that offers “affordable luxury” and utilizes sustainable and affordable strategies within a practical plan. ReSource 7’s design centers around a “modernist retreat” theme for a couple planning to build a lakeside home.
The group designed a two bedroom, two bath residence that ties the indoor with the outdoor for an open yet intimate space. The “Re-Vive” home design offers flexible studio and guest spaces, which allows the owners – a married couple – to grow within the space should their needs change. Clerestory windows throughout allow the owners to control the abundant natural light within the home, while built-in seating and shelving in a library room add a customized touch to the residence. A greenhouse is built in to the south wall of the kitchen, offering access from the kitchen itself. The seamless meld of the indoor and outdoor is further emphasized by a shaded porch with an outdoor fireplace off the master bedroom and stepped planting beds that nestle a boardwalk path leading to a lakeside deck.
For more information and to vote, view ReSource 7’s entry on Free Green’s website. The deadline to vote is Saturday, January 29, 2011.