The goal of the Swallowfield barn was to use the very process of design and construction to strengthen the bond amongst a tight-knit family and to build community within their rural neighbourhood. Designed by the architect for his parents on their farm in rural Langley, BC, Canada, known affectionately as Swallowfield, it was conceived of in two parts. It is first a humble barn designed for simple inhabitants - resident cattle, swine, sheep, fowl, cats, and barn owls, with workshops and storage for a modest hobby farm. It is secondly an homage to the vernacular building forms of our nation’s agricultural landscape and the community building processes that shaped them.
Architect: MOTIV Architects
Location: Langley, Vancouver, Canada
Project size: 355 sqm
Site size: 20,200 sqm
Photography: Ema Peter
Project description: The hayloft was conceived as a vibrant community gathering space, suitable for hosting concerts, weddings, art shows, poetry readings, fundraisers and long-table dinners serving an abundance of food from the small farm.
The simplicity of the barn’s form is intentionally reminiscent of traditional North American barns, visible across the pastures from neighbouring farms. The barn’s striking, off-kilter, roof profile creates a warm and inviting entrance visible on axis through the gardens and orchards from the farmhouse.
Like the great barns that dot the landscape of Canada – this barn was built to function and to last. It was built to honour the vernacular building forms of the rural landscape and to value the process and material culture of place from which they arise. The construction process was tailored to involve the local community in its building from the ground up, in the manner of traditional barn raisings. The architect acted as builder for the project – undertaking all contracting services – and along with his father, coordinating specific build days with crews of up to 40 people. The frames of the roof structure were constructed completely on site and raised into place in less than 4 hours.
The free spanning cathedral roof structure was conceived of in collaboration with world renowned wood engineer Eric Karsh. The expressive structure consists of closely spaced LVL moment frames with a unique flush ridge connection, achieved with a pair of glued-in threaded rods run through to clamp the intersecting rafter. The structure achieves a high level of economy and refined expression of traditional framing techniques. It showcases the potential for engineered wood to be celebrated in an exposed application and elevates mundane wood materials to a new level, expressing the beauty of their strength and visual simplicity.
As one climbs the stairs the repetitive roof structure immediately draws the eye upward to the long linear skylight at the ridge, which infuses the space with warmth and a calming diffuse light, evoking a reverent calm in all who enter. The space requires no daytime lighting and is naturally heated during the shoulder seasons. At night it is clear this space was built to bring a community together, its glowing skylight drawing visitors from the road to the homely hustle and bustle of a local hall.
Below the loft, the ground floor is spacious and functional with multiple entries and generous alleys to move larger equipment and animals, while integrating with the existing barn directly to the south. Large sliding doors create a generous indoor-outdoor work area – protected by the roof overhang above.
The building is clad entirely in vertical Douglas fir siding, reclaimed from prior use as boardform concrete formwork. Here, the marks and stains of the boards’ previous use as concrete formwork are left visible, maintaining the patina and memory as the material ages and weathers.
Using volunteer labour and recycling numerous materials for the build allowed the project to be constructed for ~$30/sf. At the end of the day, it is after all, a simple barn, for simple people and animals, enjoying a simple and rich life.
> Barn House in New York by Sigurd Larsen
> Slack Toronto Office by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design