Barns scattering the Midwestern landscape have always brought a lot to mind for me. The barn is such an iconic structure, with icons differentiating with local materials and building practices, yet is it technically even a piece of architecture? Agricultural buildings do not even need the consent of an architect to be built in the US. Yet neither does a single family home, which I think would be harder to debate as not being architecture.
There is a rich history of ideas expressed through barns and agricultural buildings. Many of these historical structures, some weathered and barely standing, begin to wane across the farms of America due to degradation by the elements, demolition of farmsteads and even urban sprawl. I can remember compelling childhood experiences of exploring old barns, specifically, the way the light came in through the old wood planks where you could actually see the beam of light with dust flying through it. Even though barns have typically been built using form for function, they have also allowed for this phenomenological and nostalgic experience, on both the scale of the experience of one barn, a farm, or from the roadside.
Barns have also been somewhat of a “billboard for travelers” at different points in history. Whether for communal aesthetic reasons such as the barn quilt movement, or for advertising purposes such as Rock City, a roadside attraction in Tennessee known for advertising on the roofs of over 900 barns.
Building practices of current barns and agricultural buildings is quite standardized, and while it does resemble ideas of barns of the past, its aesthetic and construction methods lack the emotional qualities. It leaves me wondering where that notion of expression of place (through local materials and building practice), and connection to our ancestors who came here, settled and created farmsteads is left? As my parents look to build a new horse barn and will most likely contract out to a barn building company, I am left to wonder, is it still the barn’s role to portray all of these expressions? Is there any expression left in the current barn? And what is architecture’s role with agriculture?