When your starting point is a humble barn and the end result is a modern and sustainable artist’s studio, one can only imagine what an exciting transformation it must have been in order to deliver this level of architectural flexibility.
Two artists desired a modern interpretation of a barn to house their vast collection of curiosities and memorabilia in the midst of a stunning Californian vineyard. Throw in some Casper Mork-Ulnes charm to the mix and the result is a jaw dropping artist’s studio in Sonoma County.
With offices in Oslo and San Francisco, Casper Mork-Ulnes is considered one of the emerging talents on the international architecture scene, capable of blending Scandinavian functional precision with American creative freedom with consummate ease. Re-used materials and proximity to nature play the main roles in this multi-part new structure seated in the town of Sebastopol across 2,500 square feet of space.
Mork-Ulnes Architects, breathed new life into this derelict, wooden barn, transforming it into an artist’s studio, home and office using adaptive re-use strategies in its construction, thereby taking on a green approach. Casper recalls, “The main challenge became to create an ideal art studio within the barn vernacular.” Conceived as two distinct but complimentary spaces, the main barn studio appears to give birth to the organically shaped, 720 square-foot concrete kitchen and dining area, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Amoeba’.
The studio preserves the shape of the barn. Casper tells us, “Using the barn typology had an instant appeal.” The owners, Lars Richardson, an entrepreneur dealing in Scandinavian arts and antiques and Laila Carlson, a painter informed, “We wanted to create an indoor-outdoor environment that is comfortable, interesting and attractive. A place that is conducive to a sustainable lifestyle.”
Addressing the Norwegian owners’ love for wood and need for a sustainable encompassment, 100 year old reclaimed barn siding was used as the exterior cladding material. Framing material and siding from the existing barn was used for cabinetry.
By inverting the traditional gable roof into a ‘butterfly’ shaped one, the architectural team was able to render a distinctive look to the building that referenced its pastoral context and establish double height spaces within to accommodate art production and storage. Made of weathering steel, the roof contributes towards reduced toxic emissions due to the absence of an oil based coating.
The construction system comprises of wooden and steel frames which the architects explain, “allow for large utilitarian openings and spans required to manoeuvre tractors and artwork in and around the building.” Operable windows were employed to usher in natural light and facilitate cross ventilation within the premises.
Emerging from the back of the house, the all-weather concrete pavilion, dubbed the ‘Amoeba’, bleeds into the yard. Its retractable glazed front wall opens up onto the landscape while a large, central, diffused skylight punctures the flat, exposed-wood, scissor beam roof. Defined by curved concrete eight inch thick walls, the thermal mass insulates the space on chilly days and keeps it cool during the summers. “The walls were formed by spraying layers of Shortcrete cement onto screens of recycled barn wood siding”, the studio explained. “When the concrete had dried, the boards were removed, thus exposing the familiar wood texture”.
The ‘Amoeba’ takes on a life of its own in the form of an almost Zen like meandering garden area, with dining and kitchen areas dotted along the journey. The two architectural languages seem to contrast sharply but the fact that they don’t seem to jar is a demonstration of utmost skill and a testament to the quality of the design. A verdant indoor garden of taro, fig and bamboo softly separates the kitchen and dining area. Mork-Ulnes Architects tell us, “The clients wanted the extension to have a jungle like feel.”
The indoor green patch helps purify the indoor atmosphere and reduce temperatures. It also facilitates reuse of water. Apart from this the architectural team uses thermally broken aluminium for windows and doors with low e-glass that help reduce heat loss by 20% and provide low emissivity by reflecting escaping heat back inside the room. The presence of formaldehyde-free fiberglass in the wooden-steel frame construction promotes thermal and acoustical insulation.
FSC certified milled wood not only endorses the buildings LEED recognition but also helps in reducing its carbon footprint. Minimum use of new materials facilitates a reduction in waste materials. A radiant floor heating system has been installed for optimal heating and parts of the demolished foundation were used as landscape elements.
Both green building standards and environmentally-conscious customers require independent third party assurance. Mork-Ulnes Architects not only provided this assurance but also proved that barn conversions still reserve a special place at the forefront of modern architecture as they delivered an ingenious blend of straightforwardness, pragmatism and functionality with openness to invention.
Text By Kanupriya Pachisia
Photographs Courtesy Bruce Damonte and Grant Harder