Ema Peter photos: The Swallowfield barn under construction in 2017.

The simple beauty of a barn

Architect’s labour of love wins award from Architecture Institute of BC

A son’s “labour of love” project with his father has won him a prestigious award for the design and construction of a uniquely designed barn.

Asher deGroot and his family and many friends completed the Swallowfield Barn last September on the deGroot family’s hobby farm on Telegraph Trail. It is a practical building with all the usual accoutrements such as mangers and loafing areas for the cattle and a hayloft, but it doesn’t look like any barn you might have seen before.

The cathedral-style roof trusses are offset with the north side having a steep slope and the south side a gentle slope, along with a transparent corrugated plastic strip running the length of the barn at the roof’s peak for a generous amount of natural sunlight in the daytime.

The hay loft also doubles as a community gathering space for up to 75 dinner guests or 125 guests for a concert or dance.

“My parents (Dennis and Jenny) are fantastic hosts so I wanted to create a beautiful and open space structure for them to enjoy with friends, as well as a functional barn for their hobby farm — one that makes people do a double-take when they first see it,” said Asher.

“And I wanted to use materials that are readily available, including some reclaimed materials such as the Douglas fir cladding that was previously used for boardroom concrete formwork.”

In Asher’s written summary of the project he notes that: “The free spanning cathedral roof structure was conceived of in collaboration with world-renowned wood engineer Eric Karsh. The expressive structure consists of closely spaced LVL moment frames with a unique flush ridge connection, achieved with a pair of glued-in threaded rods run through to clamp the intersecting rafter. The structure achieves a high level of economy and refined expression of traditional framing techniques. It showcases the potential for engineered wood to be celebrated in an exposed application and elevates mundane wood materials to a new level, expressing the beauty of their strength and visual simplicity.”

Just as in the days of yore the barn-raising was done by crews of volunteers, over 60 people in all, to keep the costs down.

Asher said that the 3,600 square foot building was built for a fraction of the usual $70 per square foot cost, as they performed all the labour themselves and only paid for materials and the use of a crane to lift the trusses into place.

“We thought about ways to lift the 30 trusses into place ourselves but they weighed about a ton each so we decided it was too dangerous. The crane did the job for us in four hours and we had a good crew with construction experience up there to put them in place.”

Asher, who now has his MOTIV Architects partnership with Tracey MacTavish in East Vancouver, began the design work in the summer of 2015, and oversaw the construction from that December until completion in September of 2017.

Asher and Dennis built all 30 of the laminated trusses at the farm.

“I came out and worked on it about one day a week; it was fantastic working alongside my father on this project,” said Asher.

The work bees included a two-day session with about 40 people, ages 15 to 75, putting up the walls and the second floor.

Asher and the family take great satisfaction in completing the unique project and enjoy using it on a daily basis, but the icing on the cake was having the barn take the 2018 Special Jury Award in Architecture from the Architecture Institute of B.C. It was one of 13 award winners this year in the various categories.

It’s a feather in the professional cap of Asher, who has designed and helped design a wide variety of projects over his five and a half years in the field.

“It’s been all over the map. Before I went out on my own last year I worked on the North Vancouver City Hall, multi- and single-family homes, commercials buildings, an $80-million university expansion in Oregon. A real diversity; you learn from each project and they inform one another.”

Asher says he wished to be an architect since his youth in Langley, where he attended the schools his parents taught at, Langley Christian Elementary and Surrey Christian High School. Architecture became his goal when he attended King’s University College in Edmonton and achieved his Bachelors and Masters degrees at Dalhousie in Halifax.

“I had that idea from a young age and it was a bit of a relief when it turned out that I found that what I wanted to do, I liked doing,” said Asher.

He firmly believes that beauty is found in simplicity, and this barn is an expression of that belief — a place that can be shared with his family as well as the cattle, poultry, sheep and cats, along with a barn owl which has already taken up residence in its west facade.

 

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