Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stone Barns:A Daily Dose of Architecture


Stone Barns
[Looking south from road adjacent to vegetable fields, #25 (see key map below for reference #s) | all photos by archidose.]

Last week I visited the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a non-profit farm and educational center in Pocantico Hills, New York. Housed in 1930s dairy barns built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and designed by Grovsenor Atterbury (source), the structures were converted by Machado and Silvetti Associates and completed in 2004. As can be seen in the map below, the buildings frame a central court, the heart of the project, amid the Center's 80 acres. The above photo shows a first glimpse of the Center's architecture, as it is seen from the entrance drive on approach to the parking lots.

[Stone Barns Map, modified by archidose (Note: north is towards the top-right corner) | original image source.]

Stone Barns
[The east-facing facade of the Blue Hill Restaurant, #4]

The architecture is a simple palette of stone, wood, shingles, and glass, yet it is the landscape that roots the buildings in their place. The style and scale of the barns transports one to a small English town. At first glance it is difficult to see what Machado and Silvetti actually did to the existing buildings.

Stone Barns
[The approach between #15 and #17 from the parking lots to the south.]

Stone Barns
[Looking the opposite direction from the above, from within the central court.]

Walking into the central space from the parking lots, the Hay Barn is the most overt piece with contemporary expression, as large expanses of glass are found in the lower floors, particularly in the center of the symmetrical facade.

Stone Barns
[Looking north towards the Hay Barn, #2.]

The impression of the glass areas in the heavy stone walls is slightly disconcerting, given the large windowless expanses of walls above. With the building's conversion to an educational center, the windows must have been desired; with their presence on this facade and the rear (photo at bottom), the ground floor becomes an open and transparent floor within an architecture defined by walls and small spaces.

Stone Barns
[Another view of the Hay Barn.]

Yet when visiting I can't say I was really drawn to the Hay Barn over the other buildings, since the contemporary interventions are minor; the importance of the project lies in the reuse of the structures and the prioritizing of the whole over the various parts.

Stone Barns
[Rear facade of the Hay Barn, with the Silo Lobby in the foreground.]

Stone Barns is certainly a pleasurable place to visit, but it is ultimately a product of its place, about 25 miles north of New York City, specifically in the combination of nature and money. The Center is sited in the beautiful landscape of Westchester County, on what used to be the Rockefeller's 4,000-acre weekend retreat (the main house, Kykuit, is a Hudson Valley landmark that these barns formerly served). Much of that land is now preserved as forest, one among a number of preserves that pepper the area. While the Center serves to educate people about food sources and production, the presence of Blue Hill is just one indicator that that knowledge is currently something not everybody can afford. Nevertheless one can venture around the buildings and about much of the grounds without spending a penny (parking is free during the week, only $5 on weekends), experiencing what history and today's growing concerns over responsibly growing and making food have created.
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