Monday, August 17, 2009

Barns (outside) of the box: A guest blog

Bandaging session #2 at home, what a struggle. Rompun via IM injection may not be as predictable as IV, or Riley has acquired super-equine resistance to sedatives. He stood fairly well but tormented his mom (yours truly) standing at his head. Oh, and his jolly ball has been deconstructed.

I'm pleased to have met the acquaintance of equine architect John Blackburn, who designed some amazing barns that were featured in my blog entry on barn design. In an email exchange I fought the urge to pelter him with questions, and ultimately I asked if he would like to be a guest blogger -- something I've never done. We discussed a few topic ideas, and settled on the subject of "what people who are building their own barn should know." Blackburn is clearly a proponent of custom barn design, and sent me this article on custom barns vs. kits. He is co-publishing it on his own blog. It's worth noting he's written articles that have appeared in publications such as Western Horseman, Southern Home, The Washington Post, and Town and Country. Oh, and no $$ changed hands, just FYI.

Barns (outside) of the box: A guest blog
Though I may be a bit biased, as an architect specializing in equestrian design for the past 25 years, I can’t help but babble on and on about the merits of custom designed equestrian facilities over kit or prefab barns. For the sake of the readers, I’ll try to remain brief.

Kit barns are based off the idealistic notion that “one size fits all.” Sure, there are various models and sizes, but these barns aren’t designed with your particular needs, the needs of your site, or the needs of your horses in mind so much as they are mass-produced to sell, sell, sell. Cost is a factor no matter what the budget—at what cost is it worth risking the health and safety of the horse? Throughout my experience in master planning, designing, and consulting for equestrian facilities, I’ve realized that no two barns are run the same. In my opinion, that means a carbon-copied barn just might lead to fuzzy operations.

As Custom As You Like

It’s true that custom design is more expensive than a prefab or kit barn. Still, the actual pricing varies incredibly depending on the types of finishes, overall size, details, and amenities you seek. For those of you who have envisioned a “dream barn” for years, or crave the details missing in kit barns, custom design covers all the bases. For some, utilizing architectural services for building placement—called site or master plan design—can even help a prefab barn operate successfully. For others, a master plan is the first step before designing a custom barn that reflects its environment and the functionality of the entire farm as well as the individual needs of the owners and his/her horses.

Attention to Safety

I’m a broken record when it comes to this saying, but here it goes: If given an opportunity, a horse will find a way to injure itself. As far as I see it, it’s my obligation to ensure that all of my designs protect the horse to the greatest extent possible. This means no protruding objects on the walls (not even a light switch!), only horse-friendly surfaces, and analyzing traffic patterns on the farm in order to place buildings to aid daily operations—for starters.

Seeing Green
Eco-friendly design isn’t more important than ever. It’s just getting more attention than ever—and it’s about time. While I’m a proponent for solar panels on each and every barn in America (seriously, the potential is huge), there is an abundance of simple and cost-effective ways to “green” your barn.

Throughout the years, Blackburn designed barns have relied on principles of passive design in order to capture the natural powers of the wind and sun to the barn’s advantage. By encouraging vertical ventilation through design, barns can stay cool in the summer, moderate in the winter, and dissipate the spread of harmful pathogens and gasses year round. Skylights and clerestory windows allow abundant natural light to flood the barn. A rainwater harvesting or greywater system, light-colored roofing, and low VOC paints and finishes are other options to maximize the eco-factor in your barn.

A New Blend
If my profession has taught me anything, it’s that flexibility is key. After all, design is about discovering solutions and rethinking the norm. With this in mind, I recently introduced a line of four pre-designed barn models as more budget-friendly alternative to custom design. Called Blackburn greenbarns™, these barns marry the ever-important attention to detail along with an all-green game plan. The barns feature passive design, green materials and finishes, and additional systems such as those solar panels of which I am so fond.

The Bottom Line
Just like various barn protocol, custom design is not for everyone. Nevertheless, the qualities that set custom design apart from kits and prefabs should be kept in mind despite your budget or the size of the project. Health and safety details are paramount if you seek to build a barn worthy of its precious inhabitants. Simply recessing all of the fixtures is a huge step towards protecting your animals. The relevance of a master plan will never fade in my book: if you can, consult an architect or landscape architect who has experience designing for horses to help you plan your farm or ranch thoughtfully to avoid future “surprises,” which tend to be costly mistakes that might have been avoided.

John Blackburn is the owner and senior principal of Blackburn Architects, P.C., whose portfolio includes hundreds of equestrian projects, ranging from barns and arenas to complete training facilities. With offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the firm has garnered several design awards throughout their 25 years of equestrian design experience. For more information, please visit and


  1. Uh oh, I am going to go into a "fantasy barn coma" again if I let myself revisit all the nice photos :)

    It's not spelled out, but I'm guessing that "prefab" in this context refers to bolt-together barns?

  2. Check with your vet, but I always give injectable Rompun by mouth instead of im. Recommended by my vet, easier for everyone.

  3. I can only dream about the new barns. When I win the lottery.....

    Destructo Jolly Ball? Impressive. Didn't they once show one of them being mauled by a lion to prove their indestructability?

    Have you tried an old bleach/detergent bottle hanging up from the rafter...away from the wall...with some stones in it so it makes a nifty rattling noise? Cheap and easy to replace.

    My friend had great luck with one of those roll on the floor treat balls too.

    Can't help with the Rompun. I've never used it myself. At least the important end of Riley was standing still...sort of.

  4. Blackburn barns are works of art! Amazingly beautiful. I could only dream of my horses living in one someday!

  5. Barns have definitely come a long way. Will have to save up for a newer version:)

  6. What a treat! John Blackburn is absolutely right! Horses will get themselves into trouble whenever and wherever they can, being the panicky creatures that they are. His idea on how a 'one-size-fits-all' barn really doesn't really fit anyone is right on the mark. There are simply too many variables in any barn environment to make one barn design perfect for every situation. His focus on eco-friendly design is equally valid. I look forward to seeing many of his barns around the country.


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