I’ve talked around my fascination with barns, barn architecture, barn construction, and barn aesthetics for long enough. But I haven’t outlined the tenets for my enduring intrigue, nor have I articulated exactly what I mean when I refer to a barn vernacular. It’s time to draft at least a preliminary look at my love of barns. I’ll circle back as I achieve clarity, but in the mean time, I’m going to venture into the white space, plant a flag, claim the territory. Excuse the untidy, incomplete effort. For now. In time I hope to revisit and expand this post, but I’ll start today with a precocious first foray toward a barn vernacular.
Barn Vernacular Haiku
Barn vernacular, so utilitarian and so efficient. — Geo Davis
In the vernacular vocabulary of quintessentially North American architecture, the barn endures as a practical yet proud icon of rural living. First and foremost a utility structure, the barn evolved to maximize usability while prioritizing efficient construction, cost, and maintenance. Barns have evolved regional and agricultural nuances to accommodate local materials, agricultural use, and climate but the fundamentals are similar. In the northeastern United States consistent elements, volumes, geometry, and even materials appear in many barns. Although history offers various compelling variations such as gambrel roof barns and round barns, one of which existed in Essex in the 1800s, these are not as compelling to me as the traditional New England or Yankee barn. Its familiar austerity, tidy efficiency — and I would argue — its exceedingly pleasing utilitarian aesthetic have appealed to me for decades. Based upon my personal experience it feels like the quintessential barn.
Although the term, “Yankee barn” is often associated with the customs timber frame home building company, Yankee Barn Homes, I’m harkening back to an earlier and broader style of barn architecture.
In New England, English barns were further adapted into larger, timber-framed structures, which became known as the Yankee barn. Yankee barns have large sliding doors on either of the gable ends, with large areas for livestock on either side of a central hallway. Overhead lofts allowed for convenient hay storage, and oftentimes basements were added in the bank barn style.
Yankee barns, also called New England barns, allowed for more cattle to be housed, and were the first step in a continuing trend of larger barns to accommodate more animals. (Source: History of the American Barn – Grit
Well proportioned, not only for agricultural utility but also in a more classic architectural sense, the Yankee barn was well built. The gabled roof was pitched to shed rain, snow, and ice during inclement weather. Positioning the principle entrances at the gable ends proved especially practical in rainy, snowy climates, allowing convenient access without needed to contend with ice and snowbanks collecting rom the roof. And traditional post-and-beam construction was well suited to the punishing loads and the swings in temperature and humidity to which the historically hand-hewn beams easily adjusted again and again over the years.
Here’s another overview of Yankee barns.
Yankee Barns (beginning ca. 1820s) In these barns, the main entrance is on the gable end and the drive bay parallels the ridgeline. Yankee barns usually have a larger footprint than English barns, and are characterized by sawn timbers (circular or water-powered up-and-down), large doors on either end, roofs at half-pitch (45 degrees), and stables along an eaves’ wall. They are sometimes banked with a basement level, and were often expanded by adding additional bays to the rear gable end. Rooftop cupolas and added windows help with light and air flow. Metal roofs became standard in the late 19th century. (Source: New Hampshire Preservation Alliance)
Although my fascination with barn vernacular isn’t limited to Yankee barns, it is my most consistent and encompassing vision. For now, at least, I’ll narrow my inquiry and reflection to this general design.
What do you think?