Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility
Barn Again: A local firm reimagines the traditional barn aesthetic for a new farm facility in Kentucky.
The Mason Lane Farm Operations Facility references vernacular tobacco barn design with its gabled roofs, simple frame construction, and local materials. It was fitting, then, that at the opening of this complex in Goshen, Kentucky, owner Eleanor Bingham Miller invited a shaman to sprinkle tobacco leaves around the perimeter as a spiritual gesture to the past. Designed by Louisville-based De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop, the LEED Silver project consists of two barn buildings and a grain silo. Supporting a sprawling 2,000-acre property, the complex houses equipment to harvest the land and serves as a central location for farm vehicle-servicing, refueling, and storage.
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Prior to the new facility, the farmhands utilized an open gravel lot to service and store expensive farm equipment. The machinery was deteriorating from exposure and also at risk for larceny since the lot was visible from a rural highway. The team chose the lot site for the new barns because of its central location and existing infrastructure.
“The client was an amazing steward of the property and very influential in pushing us forward in terms of thinking about sustainability,” says Roberto De Leon, partner of De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. The initial scheme did not include any specific goals for certification. “Our goal was to explore strategies that were truly meaningful for the project and to focus on elements that were in tune with the nuances of the land, the climate, and the region. We also wanted to investigate approaches that were more in the spirit of the vernacular,” De Leon continues. At the end of the process, the complex was just short of LEED-Gold certification—impressive given the difficult rural location.
A crucial part of the overall strategy was the orientation of the buildings to maximize natural breezes and limit the project’s footprint. The two main structures, Barns A and B, address different equipment and material storage needs for the farm, but together they frame an outdoor work courtyard. The owner specified limiting the outdoor lighting, as she often takes students to the property for stargazing. “Containing the light pollution was a challenge—automatic light controls and dangerous farm equipment did not sound like a good combination,” says Mark Boardman of Lichtefeld Inc., the general contractor. Therefore, the fluorescent light fixtures are on sensors and timers to save energy with manual overrides. Barn A has multiple zones with sensors so if one were to shut off, there would still be enough light for safety. The V-shape of the two buildings allowed for the consolidation of the outdoor lighting to an internal zone, thereby preserving the “dark sky” conditions outside the perimeter.
“For economical reasons and ease of maintenance, we used simple and humble construction systems, so the challenge was how could we play within the systems and reinterpret them in a new way,” explains De Leon. The 7,540-square-foot Barn A utilizes a standard prefabricated wood truss frame clad with corrugated metal panels. Full-height windows provide natural light and work in concert with a whole-house fan to draw air throughout the building. For the interior, the architect exposed layers of construction materials that are typically hidden, using OSB, particleboard, screw heads, and panel joints as the design elements on which workers can hang tools. All wood is FSC-certified, including the planks on the lower portion of the walls, which act as buffers for heavy equipment that occasionally bumps into the siding.
Though Barn A relies mostly on passive heating and cooling strategies, mechanical systems are in place for extreme weather conditions. According to Boardman, all the systems are designed to be off the grid, since the owner intends to pursue solar and/or wind power in the future. (The transition will be simple: The setup allows for the connection of conductors from an additional energy source.)
The work space and tool storage room in Barn A have in-slab hot-water coils that keep the workers warm even if the sliding doors are open in the winter, as is frequently the case. The coils are heated by a wood-fired boiler with propane-fueled backup. The team anticipated LEED credit for on-site renewable energy because the boiler is powered by agricultural waste collected from the site, but they were denied the credit. “This demonstrates one of our critiques of LEED,” says De Leon. “Clearly, the farm is not in business to harvest wood from trees deliberately, but rather simply trying to make use of readily available agricultural and property debris.”
Instead of roof gutters, shallow concrete channel swales are aligned below each roof eave to direct stormwater. The porous, drivable gravel surfaces channel water into rain gardens planted with native vegetation. The concrete floor of the barn is cleaned with a hose, but because of the chemicals and contaminants used for the equipment, the drainage channels lining Barn A have a filtration system to cleanse the runoff before it reaches the rain garden. “It’s a maintenance facility that requires little to no maintenance itself,” De Leon says.
The channels lining Barn B have a double purpose; in addition to directing water, they’re structurally integrated with the column footings below grade as a counterweight to wind uplift forces, a necessary design element due to the light bamboo composition. The bamboo-latticed facade of the 9,160-square-foot open-air shed is made from stalks that were sourced from a local grower. In a time-consuming process, they were painstakingly arranged three layers deep, according to general contractor Mark Lichtefeld, and tethered together with hand-twisted galvanized rebar wire. The bamboo shrank more than anticipated after it was installed, so all of the ties had to be tightened at the project’s completion. The intricate lattice grid offers a breathable porosity for stored materials. Additionally, the flexible bamboo stock can absorb bumps from farm equipment, springing back into shape with only localized splinter damage.
Once the native vegetation grows in around the perimeter, the site won’t be visible from the highway. The farm hands will be relieved once this is complete; they’re getting tired of explaining to curious passersby what a bamboo structure is doing in the middle of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region.