A Pastoral Pavilion
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Hay is for horses. in the innovative hands of Zoltan Pali, design principal and founder of SPF Architects, however, it's not just for them to eat, as witnessed on the 40-acre Lucky Dog Ranch in Somis, California, 40 miles north of Los Angeles. It's there that the architect stacked approximately 230 bales of hay to create a stunning equine barn pavilion.
While the structure is exemplary in its clarity and simplicity, it comes with a complex backstory. For starters, the hay-clad barn is an adjunct to a 10,000-square-foot house that Pali has been working on intermittently for some 15 years (he's now nearing completion). During this time period, the client remarked that he had always envisioned a traditional red barn on the site. Pali, a committed modernist, countered, "Why don't we design something instead?"
The Los Angeles–based architect played with dozens of sketches. But he put them aside to concentrate on the house, which he intended to enter in a competition for unbuilt (but commissioned) work. Three days before the deadline, he came up with this idea for the barn and, along with the plans for the house, entered three pages of sketches for it—without telling the client. "I did it on the sly and took a chance," Pali confesses. It won. Better still, the client felt obligated to consider the idea of the hay barn seriously.
The plans for the iconic barn were scrapped in favor of Pali's cool modernist one, which encompasses 3,000 square feet inside a simple structure of tongue-and-groove cedar planks framed in graphite-painted steel. "The steel framing is built on a 12-foot-square grid, the ideal size of a horse stall," Pali explains. The linear layout includes five stalls on one side of a two-cell-wide breezeway; on the other side of the breezeway are storage areas for tack, feed, and ranch equipment. A floating, galvanized-steel roof provides shelter overhead. Flooring is covered in easy-maintenance rubber brick, an exceptionally sturdy material that's gentle on horses' legs.
The hay exterior was both pragmatic and poetic. "The idea came from the need to find enough space to stable the horses and store the feed and the gear," Pali notes. "But then I thought, Why not use it for cladding?" Not only is hay a natural insulator and wind blocker, but the bales are also placed in such a way that hay can be easily removed for use as bedding and as snack food for the horses.
Pali installed a 2-foot-wide steel grate along the barn's north, east, and west elevations; the south side has Dutch doors to give the horses access to individual corrals. The bales are stacked, six high, on top of the grate. Pali's initial plans called for spring-loaded cables to stabilize the bales. But these proved to be unnecessary. "The bales stay in place because of their own friction," he says.
The barn's exterior is continually evolving, visually and organically. "The hay goes in when it's green," Pali says. "Then bales are peeled away for use as needed, or when they turn yellow," which takes approximately two months.
"This is a structure that's reduced to its minimal elements. Putting the hay in it adds a level of imperfection," the architect continues. "It's a wabi-sabi mixture of organic and machined perfection."
The barn project, costing $250,000 exclusive of hay, progressed faster than the original residential commission. The barn was designed in 1999; construction began in early 2004 and was completed by the fall of that year. Just in time to round up a 2004 AIA/LA Design Merit Award and a 2005 AIA Honor Award for Outstanding Architecture.