Elizabeth Blish Hughes -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Aliens have landed in Northern California, and they like cows. That would be a reasonable assumption to make when the high-efficiency metal halide lights glow through the roof and walls of this reconstructed barn by Kennerly Architecture & Planning. Set in a hilly coastal pasture, the building can look like a spaceship at night—a vision that gets even wilder when the fog rolls in.
Elegantly earthbound by day, the barn serves as a photography studio and entertaining space as well as continuing to store agricultural equipment. When the owners, who live in the property's 1870's farmhouse, approached principal Owen Kennerly, they were hoping to retrofit an existing barn, circa 1900.
The project hit its first snag when Kennerly realized that the barn was too dilapidated to save. He opted for rebuilding, which skirted strict constraints on purely new construction while allowing him to incorporate 40 percent of the siding and 30 percent of the floor planks from the original barn in his 2,400-square-foot structure.
Salvaging as much as possible was a caveat provided by the eco-sensitive owners. And the surrounding trees—cedar, eucalyptus, and redwood—had to be preserved simply "because they are trees," Kennerly recalls. He'd also need to employ energy-conservation strategies, including daylighting.
To improve the natural light, he began by reorienting the structure by 90 degrees. This was tricky, as the barn had to fit into a pocket created by the trees as they'd matured—while still taking advantage of their late-afternoon shade. The property's subsurface drainage pattern couldn't be disturbed either, essential neighborliness in an area of family farms and ranches. Kennerly accomplished this thanks to a foundation of drilled concrete piers with grade beams.
He then laid a 4-inch-thick concrete slab floor, which retains night's chill to modulate daytime interior temperature spikes during the searing dry season. Conversely, heat absorbed by the floor during the day warms the barn at night. For the rainy season, Kennerly installed in-floor hydronic water tubes. The radiant heat helps maintain a comfortable temperature at ground level, so the owners can keep the thermostat a few degrees lower, despite the 30-foot ceiling.
The photographer-owner's directive to admit as much light as possible meant no solar panels on the roof. Most of it is translucent textured polycarbonate, which cuts the sun's direct rays just a little; if the photographer needs more control, he can raise and lower a set of muslin sails.
Translucent polycarbonate reappears on the south wall. On the north wall, a transparent version of the material faces a picturesque stand of eucalyptus trees. Kennerly initially worried about overheating, but an analysis of the panels' thermal performance suggested that installing two layers, with 12 inches between them, would create effective insulation.
The mix of polycarbonate, old-growth redwood siding, and corrugated metal provides low-cost textural interest to the exterior. And Kennerly feels that the project advances the expressive and functional possibilities of agricultural buildings. Take the absence of eaves on each gable—a move that simultaneously preserves modernist lines and discourages pesky barn swallows.