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!
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.
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 over a year ago, I wrote about visiting a project in Rancho Santa Fe, California that had just began construction. A year later, I am happy to report that the construction effort is complete and was a great success. Lucky Jack Ranch, as its owners have christened it, is located in Rancho Santa Fe California and is made up of a 3,900 sq. ft. clubhouse with guest residence, a 15-stall barn plus a large wash stall, six outdoor tacking stalls, and an open riding arena. The Ranch also has a famous neighbor: the Pacific Ocean.
The family’s private equestrian facilities take full advantage of seven acres of the site, with the structures placed upon an overlook to capture Pacific Ocean breezes, not to mention an ideal view of the sunset. The Ranch emphasizes the leisurely aspects of horse riding, from cool-down trails surrounding the property to a large patio that invites riders to relax and socialize after riding. There’s a romantic feel to the architecture, which was designed as a modern tribute to Lilian J. Rice, the architect responsible for much of the site planning and architectural design within the community of Rancho Santa Fe as it formed around 1922. The architecture is heavily influenced by Spanish and Spanish Colonial design, using stucco, terra cotta, and wood accents. A trellis stretches from the clubhouse to the barn to connect the Ranch visually.
The property focuses on an ultimate rider experience, apparent in the full amenities at Lucky Jack (there’s even a wood burning pizza oven), but there’s no mistaking that this is a serious working horse ranch; complete with a hotwalker, round pen, custom Lucas Equine stall systems that include indoor and outdoor wash stalls, a tack room, and several areas for riders to lounge and observe the activity of fellow riders.
A fully equipped kitchen and dining area in the clubhouse opens to a smaller, more intimate patio space for dining al fresco while the main patio (with that enviable, wood burning pizza oven I mentioned) prompts larger gatherings. Lounge chairs and tables invite riders and non-riders alike to relax and take in the refreshing ocean breezes and unwind. The owner’s family and friends can even stay in the clubhouse, which has two bedrooms, terraces, and a laundry room. The only real difficulty might be getting guests to leave.
Allard Jansen Architects, Inc. of San Diego was a local design consultant and permit facilitator for the project.
A few weeks ago, some of my staff and I were able to tour one of our recently completed projects, a new horse barn, arena, and residence (for which we did some renovations) in Marshall, Virginia. Marshall is located in the Northern Virginia piedmont, just outside of the well-known horse communities of Middleburg and Upperville. With beautiful, sloping land, the area is home to several farms, vineyards, and country homes.
The 8-stall barn has a lounge with an office on the second floor and an attached arena for the owner to practice dressage. I’m very pleased with how the new facilities have turned out and hope the owners are too. For more information on the scope of work, please see my previous post. [slideshow]
I’d like to pass along the following information from The American Horse Council for my Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC area readers.
The American Horse Council will be hosting a FREE Tax Seminar featuring Tad Davis on Thursday November 4, 2010 at 6 p.m. at the Tri-County Feeds in Marshall, VA. This is an open invitation, so feel free to share it with other members of the horse industry so they can learn how current federal tax laws affect them and their equine businesses. Please see the attached invitation for more details.
This invitation is also posted on the AHC website, so feel free to visit the Events Page on the AHC website for information. We are asking that anyone that plans to attend please RSVP so w e can have an estimate of how many people to expect. Please direct all RSVPs to Bridget Harrison at email@example.com or 202.296.4031.
Size & Scale
When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.
Lower the Stakes
Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.
If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.
Covered vs. Enclosed
Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.
We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.