Q: Dear John,
We have a house on 3 acres of land with a 4-stall metal barn. It’s been years since horses have been on the property. The pasture and paddock are overgrown with trees and shrubs and are now essentially wooded areas. The fences are in disrepair. The area is hilly. We need to see if we can flatten an area to use as a riding ring. Drainage will be an issue. Basically, we need to figure out a way to rework what’s here to maximize what we can use. We understand that it will be a large undertaking and we want to properly plan to do it right and complete in several stages over a couple years.
Your website has been helpful and informative, but any additional information would be greatly appreciated.
A: Dear Midwestern Equestrian,
Almost weekly, our office receives calls or emails from people who own a property and plan to put horses on it. Maybe there’s already an old structure there. Or perhaps they want to start from scratch. They ask for advice on where to begin.
Midwestern Equestrian, I suggest you start with a site plan. Even with an existing structure (your 4-stall barn), there are so many benefits to putting together a “roadmap” for future changes/improvements. And since you want to put four horses on three acres, efficient planning is critical. Consider that there are three major categories of costs when planning to bring horses onto your property: 1. Operational, 2. Environmental, and 3. Infrastructure. Proper planning will save you money in all three areas. Fewer roads, less fencing, better drainage all ensure that the whole farm, not just the horse barn but the entire collection of structures on the site, operates efficiently and safely.
Operational Considerations: First locate where you’ll put the horses – where is your turnout? Where will you store hay, equipment, or vehicles? Do you have access for manure pickup, large-truck deliveries, guests or visitors? Minimizing the number of steps necessary for your daily routine (turnout, stall mucking, etc.) will save labor time, which of course you know is money in the farm biz. Planning will also preserve space for paddocks.
Environmental Considerations: Figure out structure placement within your acreage. It’s important to properly orient any new buildings in the landscape. We design our barns to generate their own ventilation, placing them perpendicular to prevailing summer breezes. (One of many design considerations for maximizing light and ventilation, which is a subject I’ve written about often.) Additionally, placing structures where the land will drain easily makes good sense.
Infrastructure Considerations: Fewer roads to maintain means fewer dollars spent.
Creating a master plan does not mean that every part of it needs be built at once. The plan may end up taking years to implement, but as each new structure or paddock is added, it isn’t done in the usual haphazard way. It will save you from asking, “You know, I could use a tractor shed somewhere?” Even those with very limited budgets should consider getting the advice of an expert at the planning stage, given the importance of the optimum farm layout.
Hope this helps in your planning, and good luck with your farm!
Central Park should be a place to escape the congestion, noise and stress of the city and cars have become something of an intrusion to the pace and tranquility of the park. In an effort to protect the safety of park-goers and reduce pollution, the de Blasio administration has shut down car access to drives along the parkland above 72nd Street on weekdays. Cars are already restricted from the park on weekends. A recent article in the New York Times and a subsequent opinion piece on the topic has me thinking once again about the ongoing New York horse carriage issue and how these recent decisions regarding car access could be a starting point to resolving both sides of the conflict.
For those unfamiliar with the issue, a selection of animal rights advocates would like to put an end to the horse-drawn carriages operating in the city. Having secured the support of the de Blasio administration, these groups cite the health and well being of the horses as their primary motivation for seeking the ban. They have proposed to replace the horse-drawn carriage tours with vintage inspired electric cars. The carriage industry, with its deeply rooted history as a staple of New York City, objects to the push and has staunchly defended that the working and stabling conditions of the horses are healthy and safe. The issue has vocal and high-profile supporters on either side and it has been the topic of documentaries and long-form media. Of course, the issue is much more complex than I’ve illustrated here.
I oppose eliminating horses from NYC streets but I do continue to advocate for their protection, health and safety. Horse-drawn carriages are part of New York City’s rich heritage and it would be a shame for it to be effectively replaced with something the city has more than enough of – cars. For a long time now, I’ve been an advocate for expanding equine activity in the city by delegating the horse-drawn carriages to the park and introducing more horse trails, equestrian programs and stabling options. Concrete and asphalt are not ideal footing for horses for extended periods of time but they’re not inherently “bad” for them either. I understand that the new restrictions will be a hindrance to taxis and others who use the park as a shortcut across town. It’s difficult to relinquish convenience, but I look at it as an improvement to the park experience and an opportunity to increase the presence of horses through a variety of activities and horse drawn carriages is just one of them.
Though horse-drawn carriage use in the park will not be affected by NYC’s new policy, it does raise questions about how the park will be traversed in the future. If horses are banned in the city and replaced with electric cars, the park would become inaccessible to many visitors seeking a scenic, non-pedestrian tour. Perhaps the reduction of car use in the park and the increase of equine activity can benefit everyone. The carriage industry can continue, pollution is reduced and pedestrians can maneuver safely.
I agree with the author of the opinion piece regarding the original intentions of the paved pathways. Frederick Law Olmstead had horse-drawn “vehicles” in mind for those Central Park roadways. Reducing car-use in the park and horses on the city streets just might be first step to revitalizing and expanding equine activity in the city.
In today’s blog, our summer intern, Alexa Asakiewicz, shares her summer experiences here at Blackburn. Alexa is an equestrian (former captain of the Villanova Equestrian Team) and currently a graduate student at Rhode Island School of Design. This year she will be completing her Masters of Architecture degree. Alexa joined us from late May to August as an architectural summer intern. Her skills are exceptional; you can check out some of her work at www.alexaasakiewicz.com. She has been helping me put together the promotional campaign for my book, Healthy Stables By Design; updating our social media presence; and assisting with architectural projects. At this point, I’ll hand it over to her.
As a life-long equestrian and an architectural student, I have been following Blackburn Architects and their projects for many years. This summer, I was fortunate to work in the office and learn more about the practice and John’s new book. Immediately upon my arrival, John showed me his book and videos. From those, I began to further understand his natural principles of design (many of which have been shared on this blog).
I not only saw these principles in design projects I assisted with, but also learned how to share them with a public audience. I realized that in addition to design work, architects are tasked with marketing themselves. While helping John update and maintain the Stable Minded blog, website, and social media, I was fortunate to learn even more about the everyday life of an architecture office. I hope you all have enjoyed looking at some of the past and present Blackburn projects on facebook, pinterest, and Houzz, as well as learning more about John’s design strategies through the blog. I have and will continue to work on the blog and facebook throughout the school year, so check back often to explore our projects and happenings.
In assisting John with publicity for Healthy Stables by Design, I gained experience working in concert with Washington International Horse Show, Phelps Media Group, and John’s co-writer, Beth Herman. I was also fortunate to be able to attend the event at WIHS. It was a great opportunity to see some of my work come to fruition, watch some great riding, chat with my co-workers again, and meet up with all the people I have spoken with and never met. Check out the tour list to find your opportunity to meet John.
The most exciting part of my summer was helping with the architectural projects in the office. I really enjoyed assisting the architectural staff with the Westchester Condominium project, the Valley Vista Project, and a private farm. One treasured experience was the chance to make a few conceptual site plans of my own. Not only did John teach me about the many considerations when designing a site, but he allowed me to put the concepts into practice. Fortunately, I also got the chance to check out the River Bank Barn and River farm. It was nice to see all John’s principles come to life as we explored both structures.
Being an equestrian myself, I have spent a good deal of time in barns. I have always been partial to the beautiful simplicity of these structures. As John told me more about his rationale behind every detail, I was fascinated. It was always interesting to hear the reasons for things that I had always before taken for granted. It also made me look at barns in a different way. I continue to contemplate the benefits of ventilation and Dutch Doors. In every barn I have been in since, I have made at least one comment on the ventilation properties (much to my mother’s chagrin).
I really enjoyed my time at Blackburn Architects and want to thank the staff for having me. I feel very lucky that I had such a great opportunity to learn from John and everyone in the office.
Over the years, I’ve collected much too many photos of barn details, which includes everything from latches on stall doors to drains in aisles. It’s only natural to collect the things you love, right? I often refer to my virtual stash of detail images when I’m designing a barn and hope they might serve as an inspiration to you as well. I will probably add to the collection (correction: I WILL add to the collection because I won’t be able to help myself) over time. What can I say, the details separate a fine barn from a fantastic barn. On that note, I hope you’ll forgive my lack of photography skill. Some of these images were taken during or just after the construction process by yours truly. That should serve to explain any and all photos with incomplete landscapes (aka piles of dirt) and unique angles (aka crooked) that are artistic-driven (aka fuzzy, out-of-focus) images.
By way of introduction to my collection, I think it seems fitting to begin this set barn detail images with the door. Every dutiful, the door is a part of every barn, everywhere. (At least I hope so.) You’ll see many images of my favorite, the Dutch door, which aids ventilation within the barn. There’s also human-only doors, main entrances, side doors, etcetera. Hopefully it’s not too much of a hodgepodge for you to enjoy.
Incidentally, I’ve asked one of the more tech savvy staff (basically anyone but me) to link these images on Pinterest; we’re attempting to hop on that fast-moving train because we architects sure appreciate a visual aid. If you’re a Pinner yourself, let me know so we can follow you there. Until then, happy collecting!
Dear disgruntled artists: the key to success isn’t kicking down the door; it’s building your own.
“The largest competitors at this summer’s Olympics in London are not weightlifters….the largest competitors are horses.” — Morning Edition, NPR, March 7, 2012
Who knew that horses could arrive via FedEx? What a great story on NPR this morning about how the horses competing in this summer’s London Olympics will arrive safe (and in style). Tim Dutta, who owns an international horse transport company, said he expects to ship between 50 to 60 horses to London this summer. Dutta said that like people, horses respond to flying in various manners. Some are nervous and may require sedatives; others are happy to munch on hay and drink cocktails of apple juice and water to pass the time. And of course, the horses aren’t left to their own devices on the planes — with them is a full entourage, including a vet and a groom. Which reminds me, I’ve read that racehorses can supposedly benefit from a little jet lag….wonder if the same holds true for events like dressage. Listen or read the full story on NPR.
I’m excited to share photos of the progress at Starbright Farm in Grass Valley, California because it’s one of our first Greenbarns to enter the construction phase. Greenbarns is a line of pre-designed barns that my firm offers as an alternative to full-scale custom design.
How It Works: We can customize the Greenbarn model of your choice (there’s four to choose from) as we’ve done for this client, but the Greenbarns method reduces the overall architectural design fees because we’re not starting from scratch. You simply choose a Greenbarns model (this project uses The Hickory design), and either build it as specified, or ask us to make a few changes to make it your own.
I like to think of a Greenbarn as a leaner and greener version of a Blackburn custom horse barn in that we offer a package of top-quality materials and finishes, replete with Lucas Equine stall systems and value engineered, eco-friendly materials. In other words, a high quality, durable, and well designed barn with the details you need. Full disclosure: Greenbarns aren’t really more green than our custom designs, because we prioritize natural lighting and ventilation in all we do, but leaner and greener sure is fun to say.
At Starbright Farm (tentative name – always a tough decision for the owners to settle on the best farm name!), the owners decided to combine two Greenbarns Hickory models. The first barn is under construction, with the second to occur during a later phase. The plan calls for the two barns, which each house five stalls along with wash/groom stalls and tack/office space, to be arranged around a courtyard with views to the west and surrounding paddocks. There’s also two run-in sheds (almost complete) and a composting system designed by the team at O2 Compost. The owners and their daughters plan to use the stables and their new 100×200 outdoor arena for both pleasure riding and hunter/jumper training with the local pony club.
I look forward to seeing this project in its completion and hope it will be a big hit with the local pony club and, of course, the owners and their family.
I think that’s the top question I get (the gist of it, anyway) and it SHOULD be. Why should you hire an architect to design a horse barn? Or, Is hiring an architect to design a barn really necessary?
In short: no. However, hiring an equine architect can save you time, your horse’s health and safety, and even money in the long run. Allow me to state my case.
A horse is so much more than a pet: it’s a companion, a worker, a teammate, an athlete. Whether you ride for pleasure or compete, the horse—your horse—is irreplaceable. I wish not to gild the lily just to make my point, which you already know, that horse owners think the world of their horses and want to treat them with the utmost care and respect. If you keep a horse, it’s your duty to protect it. While a horse is perfectly pleased to graze outdoors most days, the barn is a necessity – so I say, let’s do our best to protect that horse and maybe make your life a little easier in the process.
Barn This Way – Product vs. Service
When you decide to build a barn, you have a few choices. The least costly solution is to purchase a prefab or kit barn. The prices range (rather wildly), as does the package itself. Labor is often an additional cost as well as nails, roofing, and concrete costs. Usually a contractor charges between 10 to 25 percent of the total cost of materials for construction services. However, this percentage may go up if your project is on the small side in order for it to be financially viable for the contractor. For many horse owners, a prefabricated or kit barn is a perfectly reasonable and cost-effective solution.
If you’re looking for a step above prefabricated, or can afford to customize your project a bit, you may then wish to research design/build contractors – but this is where I’d stop and suggest that you alternatively consider working with an equestrian architect.
Why? A design/build contractor is selling a product, not a service, and is not often a trained architect, which limits his or her ability to think creatively outside of the box. In most cases, thinking outside of the box eats up profits and costs more money (for the design/build contractor). For a design/build contractor, the goal is to build quickly above all else. I think this compromises your program and the overall result because the design/builder does not want to eat up time resolving special issues or conflicts. The design is usually cookie cutter, following whatever pattern the design/build contractor typically uses, and there is no one there to really represent the owner (you) and oversee the quality of the project and if it’s built as intended or promised.
To Serve and Protect
With an equestrian architect, you’re purchasing a service rather than a product. The architect is there to resolve the needs of the owner, from overall site planning, programming, phasing, and design to overseeing the entire construction to make sure the barn is built as intended. The service costs a bit more than a design/build contractor but, if your barn is your livelihood or your sanctuary, I believe that you’ll save time and stress, frankly by getting it done right the first time.
Typical services an equestrian architect (straight from the horse’s mouth here, if you’ll forgive my pun) will provide:
- Site planning: can reduce infrastructure costs (fewer roads, less fencing, better drainage, etc.) and improve the site to function at its best for your needs.
- Programming: ensures that the whole farm (not just the horse barn but the entire collection of structures on the site, if applicable: residence, guest house, caretaker’s quarters, hay/bedding, vehicle storage, etc.) operates efficiently and safely.
- Code analysis: certainly the codes vary across states/municipalities. We’ve designed horse stables in counties with very specific codes and regulations and understand what to look for and how to work with the various officials to resolve issues. The architect can save you a lot of hassle!
- Budget Development and Cost Control/Scheduling: I like to develop a budget as early in the process as possible and revisit it periodically during the project. My job is to determine if the owner’s programmatic needs and budget fit the site, and if the design aesthetic suits their personal design goals. We can also plan to develop the barn or various structures in phases, if applicable.
- Conceptual Design: Here we develop the character and massing of the structure(s) and prepare a preliminary floor plan and elevations to illustrate our ideas. At Blackburn, this is the final phase of what we call Master Plan Services (site plan, written program, conceptual design, and preliminary construction development). From here, we move on to more detailed design work.
- Schematic Design: After we complete a master plan that works well for the owner, we begin to prepare detailed drawings to give you an idea of the layout and general appearance of the barn (and possibly other buildings). We’ll talk about finishes, materials, stalls, tack rooms, etc. For a lot of people, this phase of design is the fun part!
- Design Development and Construction Drawings: Here we’ll really start to nail down the final design and specify the materials, stall systems, finishes, and other details and prepare construction drawings that instruct the contractor how to build the barn.
- Bidding and Construction Administration: Because construction drawings are open to interpretation, it’s important that the architect works with the contractor to oversee that the project is carried out according to the design intent. We’re the owner’s rep to make sure that construction is done well and done right.
I understand this may seem like a lot, but each is a valuable step toward designing a healthy, safe, and functional facility. As an architect, I want to study how you operate and design a barn that feels inviting and personal (because it is). No barn or farm operates exactly alike as each owner or barn/farm manager operates his/her facility in a particular fashion. While designing a barn from scratch is not realistic for everyone, if you are choosing between a design/build firm and an equestrian architect, I’d strongly advise that you approach both for more information and weigh out your options carefully. It could save you your horse.
As always, I invite your questions and comments. Thanks for reading!
An architect is trained to design as the great Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) states: “Form ever follows function.” After all, if your barn doesn’t function properly, what’s the point of a great design?
On fifty gently sloping acres south of Charlotte, North Carolina, Ketchen Place Farm is a family-owned, female-run farm that breeds thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses. Blackburn Architects provided architectural services for the construction of a 20-stall barn and a not-yet-built, separate four-bay garage with a two-bedroom, two-bath residence above. The master plan includes redesign and improvement of roads, fencing, paddocks, a run-in shed, and a well-defined entrance to the facility. The shed-row style barn, which includes a studio apartment above for the observation of foals, wraps around three sides of a courtyard that doubles as a small sand training paddock. The project was featured in the Spring 201o issue of Architecture DC Magazine.
Program 20-stall barn with groom’s studio, four-bay garage with residence, redesign of roads, fencing, paddocks, shed, and facility entrance
I admit it: I’ve never even heard of mutton bustin’ until reading about the event, which is part of tonight’s lineup at the 53rd annual Washington International Horse Show, in yesterday’s Washington Post. Apparently mutton bustin’, in which kids weighing 60 lbs. or less play rodeo kings and queens while riding on SHEEP (like a fluffier and friendlier bull?), is popular in Australia. Wonder if it will catch on in the states. Or am I already behind?
It’s hard for me to imagine that any sheep with a 6-year-old on its back would feel inspired to do much other than lie down for a nice nap, but apparently it can get quite rowdy (witness the poor kid in the photo below). My curiosity is certainly piqued. I’ll even get to see the “action” live because my staff and I are attending tonight’s show (it’s BARN NIGHT, after all). Everyone at Blackburn enjoys watching the terrier races, but I bet mutton bustin’ gives the dogs a run for their money, at least as far as the cute factor goes.
For those of you who plan to attend tonight’s show, please follow me on Blackburn’s Facebook page, where I’ll post about the event and coordinate to meet up with fellow horse and barn lovers. And if you can’t make it to the show, consider watching it via live streaming.
We’ve had our fair share of Mother Nature in DC as of late. Last week brought a relatively mild yet rare 5.8 quake (and apparently those of us in the District could use a lesson in Earthquake 101, based upon our reaction). While I’m curious to know how horses in the area reacted to the scare, it wasn’t surprising to read articles about how the animals and critters at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park appeared to be the first to know.
Where were you during the earthquake? Did you know what it was? Were any of you riding? While I was stuck indoors that day, I remember that it was a particularly beautiful, temperate, and seemingly calm afternoon. I hope everyone and their four-legged friends did OK.
Three days later, it’s Friday afternoon in the District and, once again, the weather gives no impression that anything’s amiss. But this time we know better. Weather forecasters are in overdrive, studying the direction and predicting the trail of Hurricane Irene. The storm threatens most of the East Coast, with several states, including our neighbors Maryland and Virginia, issuing a state of emergency. I can only hope that those of you that are or will be affected by Hurricane Irene take these warnings very seriously and are able to bring yourself and your family (and horses) to safer ground or have taken all precautions.
If you or your horses have been affected by this onslaught of extreme weather, please let us know how you are doing and if there’s anything those of us who are concerned can do to help. The Florida Horse website has a helpful article on how to prepare yourself and your horses for the worst. Here’s another one from the Virginia Horse Council.