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Charrette to Build: Wright-Locke Farm All-Seasons Barn

A collaborative process informs decisions from design into construction.

The historic Wright-Locke Farm is a non-profit working farm that hosts farm-based educational programs and community events. It also features hiking trails, ponds, wetlands, and hilltop glades, free for the public to enjoy. A generous donor gifted the land adjacent to the farmstead to the Wright-Locke Conservancy, expanding their property to 20 acres and giving them ample space to build a new facility. Union was called in to design a new education and program center, called “The All-Seasons Barn.” It can accommodate gatherings of up to 100 people, features a classroom for children, and has a multi-purpose demonstration kitchen.

When originally approached by the farm, the charge was to provide them with a venue that could service their growth while maintaining the agrarian feel that is beloved by its stewards and patrons. Early in the design process, Union facilitated a design charrette with members of the Wright-Locke Farm staff and board, selected stakeholders, and the landscape architecture firm Stephen Stimson Associates.

The goal of the charrette was to achieve consensus on the major decisions influencing the conceptual design of the new building: programming needs, site design and connections, and building orientation, among others. A morning session helped the team sort through ideas that ranged from the aesthetic vision for the building to the shape of the tables in the event space.

The design team then retreated to a three-hour concept generation session, where architecture and landscape architecture was discussed. The team sketched a conceptual site plan, building design, and conceptual floor plans. Ideas about materials, including pre-fabricated timber, were thrown out as vignettes were drawn to help illustrate possible approaches to the interior feel.

Back at the office, the design team synthesized the charrette-generated ideas into refined, working drawings. Throughout the design process, these concepts guided decisions as layers like construction and HVAC were added.

Finally, it became time to construct the barn. Due to the fact the farm’s high season for operations and events is the summer months, we needed to build during what are typically harsh New England winters. The approach, as suggested during the charrette, was to work with a company that specialized in prefabricated, heavy-timber construction. Early on, the team collaborated with their construction team, sharing drawing templates to maximize efficiency and define details down to each HVAC duct and exterior wall penetrations. This allowed the entire building to be erected and made weather-tight within five days, and to then immediately begin the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing phases of the project. Ecologically, the new landscaping for the All-Seasons Barn responds to the existing flora and fauna found at the farm, and any new horticulture hews closely to what is native and is strategically sited to provide shade, help enclose specific areas, like where the kids meet outside, or buffer the transition from grade to the barn. The farm in turn provided landscaping that was simple, cost-effective, and maintained a consistent biodiversity throughout the site and around the building.

From the charrette, major moves like orientation and key views were established. These helped to guide the team through construction so that the final barn takes into consideration the needs and hopes of the farm staff, landscaping goals, and input from future visitors. The new All-Seasons Barn is now being used for events like weddings, kitchen programs, farm suppers, and workshops and classes for kids and adults alike, helping to support the Conservancy’s mission of building community and modeling sustainable practices.