They’re rustic, lofty, and awe-inspiring. Supported by a sturdy skeleton of timber and a base of stone nestled into the land, its appeal is seemingly timeless. The structure effortlessly fits into its landscape, whether in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or across the ocean in the United Kingdom. The bank barn. A simple beauty of which I can’t get enough. (Not to mention dairy barns, vaulted barrel barns, Dutch barns, prairie barns….)
Maybe it’s the news I seek, but I feel as if there’s an influx of articles and project profiles about converting old barns into residences, guest houses, schools, theatres — even a basketball court/recreational wonderland. Bring it on, I say. Converting an old building to a new use never gets old to an architect like me.
There’s even a How to Guide (aptly titled, How to Take One Old Barn and Call it Home) from the team who can seemingly fix anything and everything: the experts at This Old House. Converting an old barn into a new home isn’t a task for the faint of heart, but big things can yield even bigger rewards, I like to think. The article touches on common issues you’ll face: structural (is it safe? how’s the foundation?), is it energy-efficient (you can bet it’s not — yet!) and water sealed (again — no way, no how), the pluses and minuses of such a large, open space, and more.
At Blackburn, we’re working to revive a metal pole barn currently used as a recreational lodge in North Carolina. While the barn isn’t centuries old, like many of the bank barns I admire, it’s an interesting challenge for my staff and me. The owner would like to expand the barn’s use so that it may host business events and entertainment functions. Our goal is to respect the barn’s form and the local context, while providing a renewed aesthetic and use. Design plans include replacing the metal cladding with a painted wood or composite siding to provide a more traditional look. We’ll also incorporate more natural light into the barn through an enclosed glass entrance, which will in turn make the space feel more inviting. The floor will be lowered to increase the space’s capacity and the hayloft area will become a conference center for up to 80 people. Heavy timber framing with steel plate connections will add to the rustic yet finished interior.
I’ll post updates about the project as the work progresses. In the meantime, how about some inspiration for your own conversion project? Here’s just a sample of what I’ve found lately. If you stumble upon a great adaptive reuse project (whether it’s a barn, an old warehouse, a church), I hope you’ll share it here. I can’t seem to get enough.
Inhabitat: Beautiful Bank Barn Conversion (OK, a shameless plug for a Blackburn project)
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.