reBarn began in November of 2008 with a large donation of reclaimed barn wood from the Newton family’s local “Pennsylvania-style” barn. Working with the Muncie parks system, West Side Park was chosen for its potential to enhance the public recreational trail along the White River in Muncie, Indiana. reBarn aims to provide single or multiple users with a semi-programmed platform that is suitable for a variety of uses. While its use is not specifically determined, a sense of human scale and proportions is embedded in the layout of the panels, and its form is pulled specifically from the site as it creates a third levee above the river.
It was important for us to use the wood as efficiently as possible, maintain the history and quality of the material, and employ innovative strategies for its application. Rather than completely removing all imperfections, we made the decision to utilize the uniqueness of each piece and expose this on the project’s surface. In order to make milling of the barn wood viable, each piece was de-nailed, power washed, and any area that was unusable was removed. Each board was then numbered and its species, length, width, depth, and interesting characteristics were recorded. The quantity of stock totaled 275 pieces, averaging at 80 inches long and 6.5 inches wide with a consistent depth around1 inch for a total of about 300,000 square feet.
Cut files for each wood component were created using an unrolled version of the 3D model in Rhino. This catalog of digital dimensions of available wood allowed us to efficiently and precisely nest the digital cut files into the stock. Because each board was a different size and many were torqued or bowed, a unique process was developed to secure the wood to the bed of the router. Using the table’s suction a sheet of plywood became the waste board, while each piece of barn wood was drilled down to the waste board with several screws, securing every part nested in the board. The position of each of these screws had to be carefully determined before the milling process and written into the files.
Connections between individual wood components and panels were informed by a partnership with Zahner Metals. In order to offset the traditional material and hidden fabrication techniques, we involved Zahner in the process early on. We visited their shop in Kansas City to discuss materials, tolerances, and processes. The continued discussions with their engineers via phone and email allowed our team to finalize the aluminum components. This resulted in five water jet cut aluminum surface panels, and over 350 variable aluminum joints.
Each three or four sided wood panel is made up of a series of individual components, connected by a continuous dovetail joint that runs around the perimeter. The wood panels are connected to each other by aluminum joints, embed in the assembly process. Each aluminum joint accommodates the specific angle between one panel of wood and its adjoining panel. Consideration of the sequence of assembly and fabrication was equally important as the development of the joinery techniques.
reBarn began as a dialogue between the history of its primary material, barn wood and contemporary tools such as CNC technology. This dialogue balances digital and analog processes, natural and man-made materials, and traditional and innovative details. The assembly tectonic was informed by the traditional cross-bracing that occurs behind the skin of a barn. This technique was employed using a locking dovetail system, creating a framework to begin developing the form.
The overall form was developed with special consideration for the site, retaining a relationship between nature and the user. Placed within a man-made levee created by the Army Corp of Engineers, the installation has a directional flow which references the movement of the river. As users adjust into the multiple positions for sitting and reclining they have the opportunity to recognize the small rapids in the White River, the sycamores directly upstream, and the public passing by along the adjacent White River Trail.
Subtle details were employed to express the age of the wood. The precise filleted space between each board references the way barns age naturally. The expansion and contraction of the exterior wood creates gaps in the siding, resulting in a uniquely filtered quality of light on the interior of the barn. This weathered quality of old barns is embedded within reBarn.
The depth of each piece of wood deviated slightly. Because we wanted to maintain the aged surface of the wood and avoid time consumed to plane each board. The dovetail tectonic allowed for the variations in wood to be accounted for within the tip surface. The final assembled panels are not exactly in plane but this variation is synonymous with classic wood barns.
reBarn was installed over a seven-day timeframe. We utilized a list of coordinates generated from our digital model, determining the site placement of the structural concrete elements with a traditional two point / arc intersection method. The barn wood and aluminum panels were connected using custom aluminum components cut by A. Zahner Metals.
In order to support the shell structure during installation, temporary structural support for the panels was needed as the aluminum components were bolted together. Because of the extensive prefabrication, installation and assembly of the panels on site took little time. In order to increase the rigidity of the shell structure, it was necessary to add sub-structure and cross bracing to the original design. This phase of the installation was the most time consuming, but was required to insure the longevity and safety of the project. Ten minutes after completion a group of ten children “stress-tested” our project and proved it successful.
The material’s history is highlighted by the old boards creaking as you walk over the structure. Its regionalism is expressed by the inherent textures and character. Some boards retain the initials of the barn’s previous owners; other boards show places of wear from animals. These features tie the wood directly to its origins – the Newton farm in Cambridge City, IN. The contrast between aged materials and the precisely patterned aluminum panels strengthens the effect of each creating a richer whole. This relationship also provides for a direct connection between the analog and digital worlds.