Winner of 2021 AIA Design Excellence Award
Jen and Phil dreamed of a house to serve as a generational gathering place for their family. They envisioned a new atmosphere that reflected their unique personalities and was rich with history. Jen’s strong sense of simple design, and Phil’s New York State roots, led them to a structure that once served as a hay barn in rural area near Schenectady, NY. They decided that the dismantled frame of this old barn, an early 19th Century heavy timber structure, was destined for resurrection 500 miles away on a wooded lot in Hudson, Ohio. Its skeletal frame would be transplanted, and their house would be built around it.
With such a clear vision outlined by the clients, the architect’s role was to carefully navigate the design process, and surgically graft this frame into its new environment. The primary goals expressed by the client were to: re-assemble the frame as close as possible to its original form, clearly express and celebrate the heavy timber members, and create the soaring volumetric feeling of a barn. Obviously, there were very specific programmatic requirements, and much effort was spent to ensure functionality while maintaining the purity of Phil and Jen’s overarching design criteria.
The design solution started with the siting of the structure. Influenced by traditional bank barns, the ground floor was set below grade and constructed of masonry, rooting its foundation into the earth. This move provided visual screening from the street, created a stealth garage entrance on the west, and established a private exterior patio and yard extending to the east. Lowering the structure also helped to scale down the massing of the three-level house. The east-west orientation allows eastern sun to permeate the great room in the morning, and places the main entrance on the south elevation to formally address the street.
As one approaches, the simplicity of the gable form is expressed, while the heavy timber skeleton is subtly revealed. Intentionally, the frame members run behind the large windows, so they can be experienced from the exterior. At the recessed entry alcove, an exposed beam runs directly above head suggesting a final hint to visitors of its internal structure.
The entrance leads into a foyer where you can pause, take in the scale of the atrium, and appreciate the hemlock barn framing. Set inboard from the building’s shell, constructed of structural insulated panels painted white, the frame is introduced in contrast. Emulating the experience of entering a barn, the simple and unassuming exterior gives way to an expansive almost chapel-like interior volume. The straight-forward plan is arranged with the primary circulation centrally-oriented, flanked by private rooms to the west, and common spaces to the east. This allows visibility and connection via the 35-foot-high atrium as one moves horizontally through open foyers, and vertically on the ornamental stair. Between the second and third levels, an informal office loft projects out over the main fireplace hearth. The ground level great room includes the kitchen, dining, and living areas, flowing out to a covered patio and the yard through full-width bi-fold doors.
Like any unique construction project, especially one that involves transplanting a historic barn frame into a new context, the project was logistically challenging. However, this residence is now poised for longevity, in a new environment, and a new century, as a family gathering hub for years to come.