Blackburn Architects

Email Subscription


Grant Residence and Artist Studio

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’ve been practicing architecture for over 30 years. As a consequence of all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to design all types of facilities, from garages and additions to horse barns to new and renovated residences. Like many architects, I enjoy working with all types of clients and building types, as I’m always eager to confront a new design challenge. So I thought I’d share a residential project that follows the same ideals I always pursue: design that balances the demands of the site with the needs of the owner.

The Grant Residence and artist studio, located on a historic family estate in Ware Neck, Virginia, was designed to fit in the historic architectural context of the pre-Revolutionary War era property. The estate includes an original home, Lowland Cottage, which was built in 1670 and is listed as a registered historic landmark.

The original home, Lowland Cottage, remains on-site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The new artist studio and main house, both designed by Blackburn Architects, were built around stringent wetland requirements, yet they still take advantage of the scenic panoramic river views on three sides of the site.

Both structures feature hardwood floors and French doors throughout, building on the historic context of the Lowland Cottage and other structures on the Ware Neck peninsula. French doors in the main residence lead out to a spacious screened porch with ceiling fans, accessible through the kitchen, living room, and dining room.

An 18’ by 64’ screened porch serves as a welcoming exterior room that stretches the full width of the west side of the house with 180-degree panoramic views of the beautiful sunsets across the Ware River. The room was designed to be usable in all seasons with passive solar heating in the winter, and cooling river breezes in the summer.

The second floor occupies space within the roof using a series of dormers and gables to provide head room for three bedrooms while the master bedroom is on the main floor. Built-in china cabinets enhance the contemporary design of the interior while modern lighting focuses attention on the highlights of each specific room. The lighting is adjustable for showcasing artwork, including that of the artist-owner.

The artist studio complements the cottage-style of the main residence and the original Lowland Cottage. Both buildings were designed to comply with the requirements of the Historic Review Commission.


Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >

Sagamore Farm: Read about the Barn Renovations at DCmud

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.

Aisle at Sagamore Farm

Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >

First Barn: From just horsin’ around to designing barns

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.

The Interview 

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.

Horse Sense

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.

The barns at Heronwood Farm centered around two guiding design principles: a direct response to the health and safety needs of the horse and design wherein the shapes, forms, and materials are inspired and derived by context.

Aisle at Heronwood Farm - Natural light and ventilation are maximized through a continuous ridge skylight running the length of the barn.

Posted in Equestrian News | | 3 comments >

Sagamore Farm: The Washington Post & The New York Times

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!

Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >

Ventilation: Fresh, Healthy Stables

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.

From our first barns at Heronwood Farm in 1983, designing for healthy ventilation remains our top priority.

Posted in Equestrian News | | 2 comments >

ReSource 7: My Vote for Free Green’s Design Contest

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.

ReSource 7's "Re-Vive" Residence - Lakeside (South) View

Posted in Sustainable Design | | Leave a comment >

Farms with Open Doors: Open Houses (FARMS) this Year

Just a quick note to share the following list of farms that are offering open houses this year as posted by Throughbred Times. Lane’s End Farm, a Blackburn project in Versailles, Kentucky, is offering tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through January 14th. If you own or work at a farm that would like to be included on the list, email with your information. I’d welcome your thoughts if you happen to tour Lane’s End or any of the other farms. We designed Lane’s End Farm in collaboration with Morgan Wheelock, the talented landscape architect, as the Farm greatly expanded its operations from 1990 to 1995. However, the design intent – striving to provide as much natural light and ventilation as possible within the barns – remains as important today as it did then.

Lane's End Farm in Versailles, KY

Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >

Capitol Hill Information Hub Project: A Design by Matt at Blackburn Architects

View from the Metro

An intern architect at Blackburn, Matt Himler, who recently graduated from Catholic University, has the opportunity to possibly see one of his school studio projects constructed. This is a rare opportunity for a young designer, so I’d really like to promote his outstanding work by showing it off to all of you.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) here in D.C. joined several local business organizations in an effort to enhance the hospitality experience at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza, a metro stop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood on D.C.’s public transit system. In doing so, the group ran a design competition for an information hub/kiosk that will be used to direct visitors to attractions in the area while serving as a local events and news center for residents. Several designs were selected and are now in the comment period, during which the public can provide feedback that will be used to form a recommendation for a final design.

Matt’s project is the custom design/build structure 2: MUTATIO. You can view his and alternative designs on the Capitol Hill Information Hub Project blog.

The swooping design is a play on the glass canopy at several of Metro's entrances


Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >

Re-Use Architecture by Chris van Uffelen – Braun Publishing

We just received a copy of Chris van Uffelen‘s new book called Re-Use Architecture from the German publishing house, Braun. This substantial book highlights adaptive reuse projects throughout the world: Blackburn’s New River Bank Barn project is part of the stunning collection.

As van Uffelen asserts, building conversion is more relevant than ever as recycled and eco-friendly solutions are becoming the norm. It’s a gratifying challenge for me to “save” an old barn or convert a worn out structure into something different while paying respect to its former use. I can’t help but appreciate a book that makes showing off these type of projects a mission.

We’ve been fortunate to have received attention for the New River Bank Barn, which was a memorable and exciting project for our firm. I still can’t help but feel proud when I look at the “before” photo of the 1800s bank barn, which was in severe disrepair. Most of the structure was preserved, but re-clad in SIPs panels to provide insulation and structural support. The SIPs panels are sandwiched between the original barn walls and a new board-and-batten exterior. The northeast-facing wall of the original structure was removed entirely and glazed, opening the interior to expansive (and very private) views of the property to the Potomac River. Steel columns were added and wrapped in indigenous fieldstone to support the new glass wall, which was designed with mullions that align with the original frame columns and purlins so that the framework fits aesthetically with the original structure.

Our work could only be done thanks to the owner’s foresight to envision a new future for the old structure. I couldn’t be more pleased to have been given the opportunity to “save” the bank barn, which now hosts gatherings and parties for the owner’s friends and family. Re-Use Architecture is available at Amazon and major book retailers.

Posted in Equestrian News, Sustainable Design | | Leave a comment >