In Kentucky, Two Barns of Steel and Bamboo

As A+A celebrates a decade of posts about thoughtful design for a sustainable world, we’re reaching back into the archives for features from years past. Here we have a September 2010 piece about a pair of sustainable barns by Louisville’s de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Kentucky is a fantastic place to live, work and watch the ponies run, and this firm enriches it all as it consistently delivers material-savvy and award-winning work:

Two barns by Louisville’s de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop, both for a 2,000-acre working farm, have set new standards for sustainability.

“It was a test for us: how to apply LEED criteria to prime farmland,” says Roberto de Leon, principal in the firm. “That was the first of its kind – there’d never been an agricultural facility that applied for LEED certification.”

One is crafted from recycled corrugated steel. At 100 by 60 feet, it’s fully enclosed for farm equipment repair and storage – and a manager’s office. The architects applied passive strategies like natural ventilation for cooling – with a riff on traditional tobacco barns’ louvered doors – to control drafts. A fan pulls air through the doors and around the barn.

For heat, coils are embedded in a concrete slab. So when doors are opened for ventilation while vehicles are repaired in the winter, workers stay warm. A wood-burning furnace, fueled by farm debris, takes the chill off too.

The second barn is covered in plaid-patterned bamboo, harvested 35 miles away. It was bundled into modules with galvanized wire ties turned with an awl. Each can be adjusted over time.

“The bamboo’s three layers thick,” de Leon says. “When it was harvested, it was a fresh green, and then it turned golden. It’s got a 20- to 25-year lifespan.”

Its cladding offers resilience that traditional cedar can’t. “The growth nodes allow it to bounce back into shape when bumped by farm equipment,” he said.

The bamboo barn is used as an open-air shed to store large-scale farm equipment, with baled hay at either end. Ventilation from the latticed bamboo keeps hay dry, even after a heavy rain. It may get wet, but bounces back within 24 hours.

There are no gutters on either barn. Rainfall is directed to concrete channels, where it flows to two rain gardens about 150 feet away. “We’ve used natural, regional plantings there, and there’s no need for any other irrigation,” he says.

The bamboo barn’s roof is tied into piers connected to the concrete channels, countering updrafts that might lift it like a kite.

The project, known as the Mason Lane Farms Operations Facility in Goshen, Ky., earned a 2009 American Institute of Architects KY Honor Award.

Simple but sophisticated, it’s well-deserved.

For more on de Leon & Primer Architecture Workshop, go here.

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