Traditional and Contemporary: Basic Geometry of Texas Barn Design
By Steve Chambers / Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
Because barns are by their nature utilitarian structures, many present a contemporary appearance, with a basic geometry that is absent superficial adornment. Their resulting profiles are bold, particularly when juxtaposed with other buildings and create an interplay of slashing shadows throughout the day. When integrating historic barns with his newer designs, Texas architect Steve Chambers, works to remain sensitive to the original character of the early structure. “Our firm’s objective for the end result is to allow the original structure to ‘take center stage,’ rather than disguising it with distracting elements. The simple geometry and detail of the early Texas built environment is elegant and refreshing. The three-dimensional massing, planes, proportions, relationships and materials allow us to use these early Texas forms in our designs, regardless of our clients’ leanings toward traditional or modern residential architecture," says Steve Chambers, AIA.
Where adornments do occur on barns, they are often purposeful. Consequently, their simple geometry is easily connected, conjoined, and contrasted with either traditional or contemporary residential architecture. Successful barn conversions to residences require a respect for the integrity of the features that give these original structures their character. It’s tempting to impose clever devices in place of the earlier vocabulary of the structure. But, architects experienced in the vernacular from which barns derive their personality and sense of place, are able to keep the narrative of the design honest and authentic. “We keep what makes the barn ‘a barn’ and show how it originally worked as one,” says Chambers. “In our designs for new barns, we respect what the setting and topography of the land informs their design and that of a new adjoining ranch home to be.”
Throughout American history, farmers have built barns to shelter livestock and store their harvest. A vast variety of barn styles can be seen throughout the United States, each design adapted for unique weather conditions and cultural traditions. A steeply peaked roof, for example, is usually seen in regions with considerable snowfall, since the weight of snow stresses the roof and can collapse a barn.
In the hotter, more humid South, steeply pitched roofs capture heat. So while they’ll still have a slope to shed rain and snow, more southerly barns have variations for ventilation such as the airy ‘monitor’ barns that move air from floor to ceiling through the vents. American farmers also built their barns with aesthetics in mind. While barns are functional by design, appearances distinctive to a region provide identity to the regional farmlands on which they stand. Certain barn styles have become synonymous with particular parts of the country; they comprise an important portion of the historic built environment of an area’s agricultural past and often inspire present and future design decisions.
In gallery below (Editors note: we were unable to re-post the gallery referenced, click here to view the original post), L-R, are examples of basic barn geometry. First two photos are barns in Switzerland, where weather and snow dictate steeper roofs. Often, these homes are attached to barns, consolidating energy and reducing exposure to the elements for both ranchers and animals. The black and white sketches and photos are from the book, Pioneer Texas Buildings: A Geometry Lesson by Clovis Heimsath (University of Texas Press, 1968). They illustrate the forms that define the Texas regional vernacular. Next, the sketches and photos of barns designed by Texas architect, Steve Chambers AIA, located in East Texas, North Texas, and in the Hill Country. The final barn is the Ploughshare living classroom, where lessons in sustainable lifestyle, gardening and farming are taught at Homestead Heritage Village near Waco Texas.
About Steve Chambers
Steve Chambers AIA, Residential Architects, Dallas TX. Steve is a Residential Architect and a licensed interior designer. He achieves unique styles by enquiring into what his clients think would be their ideal home and building a home that meets their stylistic aspirations while centering the design of their home around their daily habits.