the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for case studies

And you thought hills were bad for farms!

Vijlskovgaard Farm

Does this look like the future of farming? That was the name and goal of the architectural competition in Denmark that linked 6 farmers with design teams to create beautiful architecture for their farms. I don’t think it looks too far into the future, in fact I was amazed at how simple and common the structure and interior looked for such a beautiful exterior!

Light open interior

Light open interior

Vijlskovgaard farms milks 440 cows in his new barn and the design has the flexibility to hold 600 cows. They implemented a Lely robotic milking system, 6 robots installed now and room for 2 more. They also use a robotic feeding system, and auto bedding system.


The design implemented heat recovery off the milk for the heated areas, like the milk house and the heifer calf areas as well as for heating the house. The barns ‘peaks’ are completely louvred and open with curtains that close behind them, typical of dairy barns here. They have also implemented a fibre recovering system from the manure to use as bedding.


The farmyard planning follows all good principles as I outlined in my previous post. The main lane way comes to the heart of the farm for access to old and new facilities. The building cross creates a few small yards within the wings and also connects various yards and infrastructure to each other (ie the manure pit, pastures, to the driveway). The cross layout allows everything to be closer together for efficiency father than one really long barn, or multiple long barns.  I tried to obtain a floor plan directly from the architect but that information is confidential.  But you can take a virtual tour here with the architects model.


The design mimics the landscape it sits in, hilly and mountainous. The peaks of the barn enhances and respects the landscape and also provide great cross ventilation in all directions. The large peaks let lots of light in resulting in happy and healthy cows! Rather than making one extremely long monotone, dull barn the crossing creates interest and personality to the barn without needing to ‘decorate’ it with timber poles that wouldn’t hold up much inside the barn. There is even some brick as a nod to the traditional homestead. I also need to gush at the nighttime look. Dairy barns are quite beautiful at night, they are strips of light along the landscape of darkness. The vijlskovgaard farm adds even more interests and creates hills of light at night that would normally be invisible.

Now I know your all thinking it must have cost a fortune! I was pleasantly surprised as I hope you will be too. The total cost of the facility was approximately $8.3million for 8800square meters (94,722 square feet). This cost includes all the equipment, robots, milking system, and penning and works out to about $90 per square foot! Compared to a small facility that is wood frame may cost around $60 per square foot, this is completely reasonable for good architecture and good dairy barn design. That cost also includes a public front/processing area that most barns would not include.


This collaboration of aesthetics and function created a barn worthy of replacing the traditional bank barn of our rural landscape as the future farm! The farmer is extremely happy with his new barn (quote from the architect), and the milk production has been even higher than expected! It’s amazing what some creativity can do for your farm and your bottom line. What do you think of it, I am curious Ontario dairy farmers, so please drop a comment?

Photos courtesy of LUMO architects, landbrugsavisen, arch daily.


Who moved my cheese?

That's what I felt like after biking 35km to the Fifth Town cheese factory in Prince Edward County. Designed by Lapointe Architect, it has been on my architecture bucket list for many years for a few reasons; it was designed by an architect; it gave me hope that an architecture career in agritourism was possible; it is LEED platinum, and I love cheese. Unfortunately, within the past few weeks it entered bankruptcy and was closed (and not because the architect went over budget), just as I had the time to visit Prince Edward County.

After a 30km bike ride to get there it was a welcome rest point, with dedicated VIP bike parking (a LEED point). Unfortunately I was not able to go in or get a guided tour there was lots to see from the outside, and I had done my research on the unique green features.

The factory is one of Ontario’s only cheese factories (or any rural building excluding wineries) that is LEED certified. It meets the criteria for Platinum, which is the highest level of certification. For those of you who don’t know what LEED is, (a post is coming) it stands for Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design and it is a certification process the measures and confirms reductions in energy use for your building. The diagrams below shown the energy, water and material savings the design provided to this business owner, when compared to other industry standard designs of the same type of building. These savings would get passed onto the business owners! you the farmer! Not to mention its a great marketing tool!

Material, Energy, and Water savings

The building has some unique building materials to give it character and make it unique. Not only does it have corrugated steel cladding (inexpensive) it uses a composite lumber (the red stuff), as well as this unique product called Durisol blocks for the foundations. Durisol blocks are like insulated concrete forms (ICFs), but they are made of a concrete wood fibre blend, giving them additional strength, more insulation value, and more sustainable materials. The Durisol blocks make up the walls for one of my favorite features of the facility; the aging cave. You can see me standing on what looks like a big mound of dirt, which it is, but it is cover and keeping cool the cheese aging cave. You can see in the photograph the viewing window/cave entry on the bottom right. The cool temperatures of the earth significantly reduces the energy required to keep the cheese cool as it ages.

Aging Cave viewing entry, and earthen covering

The facility also looks after water management and waste in a sustainable manner. Whey and wash water are waste products from the cheese making process. The site was designed with bio-wetlands to filter and clean this waste water so that it could naturally infiltrate into the ground again. The Factory also uses cistern to collect roof water and use it for non-potable (non-drinkable) uses.
Whey bio-filtration system

Whey bio-filtration system

Although there was no opportunity for me to taste cheese, there plenty for the building to “say” cheese, with all its goodness!20120605-124500.jpg

Inside-out Hay Barn

When would a farmer ever think to turn his barn inside out?  Sometimes it takes an outsider to rethink, reinvent, and make something beautiful.  That is exactly what SPF architects have done. This horse barn has been turned inside out.  The architect used the hay bales themselves to create walls for the building. As the hay is fed the barn changes; and as the season progresses the colour changes.

Source: SPF architect

The barn is quite functional as well as beautiful.  The clerestory gap between the walls and the roof allow ventilation through the barn for the horses. The large overhanging roof protects the walls & hay from both rain and heat gain from the suns rays. The structure is simple and open for easy cleaning, maneuvering, and an open interior feeling. In our winter climate, the hay bales can actually provide insulation, as you can check out in my blog post.

source: SPF architects

This barn is a simple structure designed to hold hay bales, not different from any other hay barn, except in how it holds the hay bales. What I love most about the barn is that it evokes sentiment and emotion that we might get when looking at a traditional bank barn, clad in wood.  Its different than the cold steel agricultural buildings that are so common in our landscape. There is something warm about this building. It connects us to the farmer and what he does.

source:SPF architects

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

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?