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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.