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The 2009 Washington International Horse Show at Verizon Center

Once again, the Washington International Horse Show hits DC –and believe me, horses stabled on the streets just outside the Verizon Center, home of the Washington Capitals and major concert events like Bruce Springsteen, cause quite a scene. Still, it’s a welcome scene and a great event that I look forward to attending. This year’s show features the Canadian Olympic dressage team’s Ashley Holzer who will perform with her horse, Pop Art, during the evening shows Thursday through Saturday. (Ashley and her husband Rusty Holzer, who is also a former Olympian, teach riding lessons at the Riverdale Equestrian Centre in Riverdale, New York, by the way.) Saturday’s evening show also features the $100,000 President’s Cup Grand Prix, one of the main events at the WIHS.

Are any of you planning to attend? The events kick off tomorrow–Tuesday, October 20th at 7 a.m. and run through Sunday, October 25th. Tickets are still available through Ticketmaster.




All images from

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A Must-Read in the NY Times: “New Homes and New Hope for Some Neglected Horses”

If you haven’t yet, please read this article by Joe Drape for the New York Times about the malnourished and neglected horses found at Ernie Paragallo’s farm in upstate New York. In April of this year, the thoroughbred breeder and owner Paragallo was arrested and eventually charged with 35 counts of cruelty to animals. Since then, horse lovers across the county have come to the rescue for many of these animals. While that doesn’t change what these horses went through, it’s comforting to reaffirm what most of us already know: that the horse community is filled with people who are willing to go the extra mile to help a horse in need.

EscapedFromNewYork is one of the horses saved from Paragallo's farm.

EscapedFromNewYork is one of the horses saved from Paragallo's farm.

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Build-On: Converted Architecture and Transformed Buildings

Hello readers,

I have some exciting news to share with you today. One of our projects, the New River Bank Barn, was a part of a just-released book from Gestalten, a Berlin-based publishing house. Build-On: Converted Architecture and Transformed Buildings is a collection of adaptive reuse architectural projects from across the globe. All of the projects showcase transformative design that provides a structure with a new use (and a new life).


As I’ve probably mentioned before, to me, there’s no satisfaction greater than “saving” an old building from demolition. Whether it’s an old warehouse, a bank, or a bank barn, adaptive reuse allows an architect to turn a building on its head—so to speak—and design something new and different. What was once a post office is now a restaurant. A worn out railway station becomes a public library. A barn that once stored hay is where your grandchildren comfortably sleep during overnight visits. In other words, a worn out structure is reborn.

I feel privileged to be a part of such an interesting group of projects and among my peers in architects—many of whose work I greatly admire. Below is the Blackburn page from the book, which is available through book retailers, the publisher’s Web site, and—of course, Amazon (where seemingly everything under the sun can be found).

Build-On BBarch Page

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A Crash Course in Sod Roofing

Clients often bring new challenges to the table, whether it’s a site located in a difficult climate, a unique twist like incorporating a wine cellar into a barn, or an interest in green technology and sustainable techniques. Recently, the latter came into play: a potential Blackburn greenbarns™ client liked our Hickory design, but wanted to add a tweak of his own in the form of a sod roof.

The Hickory: A Blackburn greenbarns design

The Hickory: A Blackburn greenbarns design

Admittedly, sod roofing hasn’t come up in my experience, but I am excited at the possibility of integrating this “new” old technology into the Hickory design. After surfing the web for sod roofing as well as discussing it with a member of my staff familiar with all things green, I thought I’d share what I learned with you. Consider this a crash course in sod.

A sod or a turf roof literally consists of the layer of ground that contains a mat of grass and its roots. According to Wikipedia, these roofs first appeared in Scandinavia, with a layer of sod set upon several layers of birch bark, which acts as a water sealant membrane. Modern sod roofs typically replace the traditional birch bark layer with other types of waterproof/root protective membranes.

There are various resources that provide instructional step-by-step and consulting information, such as this “How to Build a Sod Roof” article from A more professional resource is the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) association, which has a green roof certification program for professionals. The overall concept and application of a sod roof is simple—but that doesn’t mean it’s a DIY project.


Pieces of cut sod

One of the reasons you should consult a professional is to evaluate the structural loading capacity of  the building intended for sod roofing. Since sod can be quite heavy—about 50 to 60 extra pounds per  square foot over traditional roofing—it’s vital that the structure is capable of maintaining such  weight. That’s why sod roof experts often indicate that the most suitable roof type has a low pitch.  For this reason, the Hickory design our potential client is interested in would most likely require  retooling in order to properly adjust to a potentially heavier roof.

Once the structural loading capacity is secure, there are many benefits to sod roofing. Here’s a short list:

  • Excellent insulation and fireproofing
  • Functions in a variety of climates except extreme
  • Cooling in the summer and retains heat in the winter
  • Wind and noise protection
  • Long-lasting (up to 50 years is a frequently cited standard)
  • Retains water to help prevent flooding
  • Plants produce oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide

To elaborate upon the last item on the list, here’s a quote from James Nestor’s article, “Highly Sod After,” on Dwell Magazine’s Web site:  “A single 16-square-foot roof of uncut grass produces the amount of oxygen that one person breathes in an entire year and removes up to 4.4 pounds of airborne pollution annually.”

Overall, sod roofing can be an effective way to “green” your roof and your lifestyle—a time-tested practice that proves sustainable technology isn’t always in the form of a fancy gadget or expensive material. What’s more accessible than your own backyard, after all?


Mother Earth News:

Dwell Magazine’s Web site:

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC):


Chelsea Green:


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New River Bank Barn in Build-On

Blackburn is pleased to be a part of Build-On: Converted Architecture and Transformed Buildings by the Berlin-based publishing house Gestalten. The collection showcases extraordinary adaptive reuse projects designed by a variety of architects. Blackburn’s renovation of an 1800s bank barn into a “party barn” in Leesburg, Virginia is featured. The book is available through Gestalten and book retailers worldwide.


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Sagamore Farm and Native Dancer

In case you haven’t viewed this video (available on YouTube and, please watch. It’s a very well done piece on Sagamore Farm and its revered history. It features interviews with one of Alfred G. Vanderbilt II’s sons and views of the property both former and current. Of course, Native Dancer–the Grey Ghost–who is buried on the farm, is also remembered and honored.

We’ve very much enjoyed being a part of the renovation work on this historic property and would like to express our congratulations to Sagamore Farm for Shared Account’s Graded Stakes win at Lake Placid at Saratoga Race Course last week!


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Barns (Outside) of the Box: A Repeat of my Guest Blog from Behind the Bit

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.

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Behind the Bit: A Blog on My Radar


I’ve recently found a new equine blog that an equestrian named Stacey writes called Behind the Bit. OK, I may have found the blog by Googling “Blackburn Architects,” the name of my firm. Still, I was happy to see that Stacey wrote an entry about dream barns and one of our designs was her inspiration. (I’m a sucker for flattery when it comes to design.)

Regardless, I’d like to share the link to her blog as well as the guest blog entry I recently wrote for her about the merits of custom designed barns versus prefab and kits.

I’ll post that immediately following this entry.


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Bank Barn Renovation Update: Part III

Here are a few more photos of the progress underway at the bank barn adaptive reuse project in Ohio.   Exterior

This one shows the almost finished slate, shingle roofing a bit closer so you can see the detail in the pattern. Notice all the beautiful evergreens–the property is a former Christmas tree farm.


The three-tiered cribbing will showcase the green views that extend for miles.

Radiant Heating

The radiant heating along the floor.

Interior windows

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Wild, Wild Horses: HR 1018, Restore our American Mustangs Act

I’ve mentioned it before, but Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States writes a terrific blog called A Humane Nation that highlights issues specific to animal protection and animal rights. Often his topics turn to horse-related issues. On July 17, the blog discusses HR 1018: Restore our American Mustangs Act. Are you aware of this piece of legislature?

As many of you know, several hundred thousand wild horses and burros are rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a federal entity that “protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971,” according to its Web site. Mr. Pacelle asserts that the BLM has mishandled this issue, which has led to the holding of “approximately 31,000 wild horses in captivity, with taxpayers footing the bill.” For Pacelle and other animal rights activists, the BLM has strayed from their purpose to protect these wild horses and burros as symbols of American culture: Instead, these animals are rounded up and held captive. With more animals than the BLM can handle, the group may resort to slaughter–according to Pacelle–which is sure to inflame the masses.

The HR 1018 bill, which passed in the House and will move on to the Senate, advocates for new protections and reinforces the original intent of the BLM by ensuring adequate land is available, fertility control measures are taken, the BLM adoption plan is promoted, and animals are protected against slaughter, among other aspects.

With no natural predators, the BLM notes that herd sizes can double about every four years and that the “ideal” number of horses and burros the Bureau can handle on their land is about 26,000. The bill will help provide better management so that the nearly 37,000 horses and burros that roam on the federal land in 10 western states (a number that exceeds their “ideal” by 10,000) are protected, and that the approximately 30,000 horses and burros held in captivity is controlled.

From user defrostindoors

From user defrostindoors












For more information, visit:

For another side of the story, visit:

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