the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for barn design

Barn Raising… I mean Watching

This week my region hosted the International Plowing Match in Roseville, a small rural intersection town I often cycle through during the summer. This year the Mennonite Disaster Relief organization hosted a barn raising demonstration for which I volunteered for many months ago. As the day drew nearer I was very excited to participate in my first barn raising. However, as fate would have it, I broke my collarbone a week before the event (more on my skills as a one-armed draftsperson later!) and was not able to assist. So I sent my husband in my place and participated vicariously through him!
The barn was taken down from a nearby town called Paris, it was assembled and disassembled at the Plowing Match, and reassembled in Collingwood as someone’s storage shed. Although, not my ideal final use and resting place for a barn, it is a preferred fate to many bank barns today.  The barn is a post and beam frame, with post around 12″x12″ (those would be expensive timbers these days!). There were 4 bents (frame that spans the short width of the barn) 40′ wide, and spaced 20′ apart.

The process was quite fascinating. There were about 40 volunteers to do the heavy lifting. When we arrived at 9 (as my father would say, the day is half over already) the 4 bents were lying on the ground ready to lift in place. There were 4 tasks to be assigned, ‘on the rope’, ‘on the pike pole’, ‘lifting the bent’, and ‘at the foundations’; not to mention the conductor of these amateur barn builders (most had never done this before). At the start of raising the majority of volunteers stood along the bent, poised to lift on the “he” of “yo-he”. One person was assigned to a rope on each side of the bent, just to steady the frame and prep the rope as the frame lifted. Another volunteer was given a long crowbar and was in charge of ensuring the frame stayed on the seat of the prepared foundations (done by krinner ground screws, a unique and efficient foundation product). And finally 2 people were assigned to each pike pole, for a total of 4 poles. A pike pole is a long 6″ pole with a thick nail on the end, used to push the bent upwards after it is no longer in reach of the people on the ground.  The process went something like this:
Ye-ho, ye-ho, ye-ho, the bent is now at its highest point within reach of the lifters.


Pike poles are stabilized and lifters who are too short, move to the poles to push.
More people move to the pike poles, while others move to the ropes, now two attached at each end.
The pike poles continue to push, but volunteers move to the ropes to ensure the bent are stabilized as it reaches its vertical position.
The post are leveled into position on the foundations, and spiked temporarily in place until the second bent can go up and cross bracing attached to both bents.
Girders, braces, and pegs are installed using the frame itself as a pulley. assembling a barn is a bit like a puzzle and a few pieces don’t quite fit right the second time around…
but, with a bit of convincing the cross beams go into place and the frame can now support itself.


Unfortunately, this is where our day ended with the remaining work to be completed in the following days of the Plowing Match.  My family attended the last day and this is what it looked like.
Check out this video that has some more barn raising action.
This experience only reinforced my obsession with barns and reinforced my ideas about barn architecture;
1. that wood is extremely strong
2. barn raising is a wonderful community building event
3. aside from the nails at the foundations (which was temporary) the barn did not have any mechanical fasteners, only tension and wood joints!
4. timber barn structures have many lives ahead of them, and fire wood is not one of them

Simple Practicality

Gray Organschi Architecture

This beautiful project looks expensive and complicated, but it's so not. This wood storage barn takes the need to store pallets and uses them at the exterior wall of the shed. A steel frame provides insert pockets for each pallet to create a wall of storage. Designed by Gray Organschi Architecture, they take the simple need for storage and made it beautiful with only lighting. It's even off-grid lighting, powered by solar panels! The mosaic pattern of different pallets creates a simple practicality for this shed. A perfect example of form follows function.

Gray Organschi Architecture

Gray Organschi Architecture

Gray Organschi Architecture

Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.

Home for the holidays or the chores?

Inevitably when you go home to the farm for any length of time you get recruited to help with chores. Not that I mind, and in many cases it is a way to spend time with my Dad. So during Christmas break I helped with cleaning out the chicken barn. This involves a retrofitted lawn mower with a scraper on the front. But operating that was not my job. My job was to fork, shovel, scrape or by any means, by hand, clean the corners of the barn where the tractor could not get to. A difficult job for an out-of-shape cityslicker like me. My dad even gave me a “break” job in case I got tired; change the dead lightbulbs. During this labour intensive task and being a designer, I couldn’t help but think “how can this be easier?” I decided that the barn should have rounded corners! Rounded to match the turning radius of the tractor to eliminate this tough job. It took about 8 hours to clean 4 corners. Eliminating that square footage and few extra birds more than makes up for my saved time and my saved back!

Mason Lane Farm, Kentucy

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

This farm, designed by de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop is a great example of modern design, and rural culture coming together. The farm is located in Goshan, Kentucky.  The 2000-acre farm is used for agriculture, conservation, and recreation. The design is LEED Gold certified and has won many green design awards.

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Two barns create a sheltered courtyard or farmyard (an important part of farm site design). The site is designed to capture water run-off in an organized fashion and direct it to collection and infiltration pools.  This reduces maintenance on gravel or asphalt laneways and farmyards and gutter cleanouts. The architects also mapped the equipment paths, wind patterns, and vegetation to assist with spacing the barns and orientation.

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Two barns create a sheltered courtyard or farmyard (an important part of farm site design). Both barns use natural, recycled, local, and low VOC (volatile organic compound that have hazardous off-gassing) materials.  They use the characteristics of the materials to emphasize the architectural design of the barns; i.e. dimensions of steel cladding seams correspond to column supports and window placement, making construction simple, reduces waste, and cuts costs.

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

The open, but covered hay and equipment storage shed is built from locally sourced bamboo that is  tied together is a lattice pattern, reminiscent of the straw being stored inside.  The open lattice allows natural ventilation to keep the straw and hay dry.

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

The workshop shed is clad in typical industrial corrugated steel cladding.  A-typical is the colour chosen; brown, a colour that matches nature and mimics the traditional wood barns. This barn uses the actual building materials as the ‘finished’ materials rather than covering them and purchasing additional finish materials. This enclosed shed houses the workshop and the farm managers house. This shed uses natural ventilation, passive heating, and natural daylighting to reduce electricity costs.

photos property of de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

This farmyard and pair of barns are a great example of traditional methods working to accommodate new technologies and providing energy and cost saving benefits. They are beautifully designed and detailed, and stand beautifully in the landscape. This is a view from the agritect, what do you think?

About the Agritect

They say you can take the girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl.  I left the family farm in 2002 to pursue a career in architecture and came full circle in 2008 when I started my master's thesis on architecture and agriculture: agritecture.

A few definitions (taken from Google definition):


The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Middlesex County.  As a child I was fully immersed in the family farm. I very quickly realized that farmers are more than just farmers, they are contemporary Renaissance Men, understanding business, accounting, management, science, biology, ecology, mechanics, electronics, buildings to name only a few.  But farming is not only a science, its a lifestyle choice.  Its hard work! But is also the fresh air, the morning dew, the view over the land you work, seeing the first sprouts break through the crust of the field. Farmers are the caretakers of the land and the architects of the rural landscape.


  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.
  2. The style of a building with regard to a specific period, place, or culture.

The transition into architecture was not difficult (except for the city life). The architect is not unlike the farmer, they too are a Renaissance men (or woman in this case), skilled in many disciplines and big picture thinking. Using creative problem solving skills, the architect can think about a design in many different ways (including ones you might not think of) in order to find the best solution. Architects are trained  to manage many disciplines and many streams of ideas, problems, complex systems, and information. My education trained me in structure, ventilation, lighting, electricity, costing, etc. Not only are they trained in technical systems, but they also integrate culture, beauty, site and user specific needs into their thinking about buildings and design. All this information is then combined into one simple solution that assists the users of the building in terms of budget, energy costs, ease of use, and pleasantness of experience.  That is a good architect.


  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing farming buildings with regard to the specific place, culture, and science of farming.

When I began the undertaking of my thesis on agriculture and architecture, I had an advantage; I knew the story from both sides.  I understood that a barn, house, or farm design, needed to be absolutely practical, it had to make economic sense, but I also knew how to make it energy efficient, personal, and as moving as the traditional bank barns. After the completion of my thesis I knew that working in the rural and agriculture sector is what I wanted to do. I am the agritect.

I am currently practicing architecture as an intern architect in the Waterloo Region and will soon become a fully licensed architect.

This blog is a resource, portfolio, and exploration of the sustainable relationship of agriculture and architecture. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me.