Photo Credit: Jonathan Hillyer

The Barnes Center

Project Description

The design team transformed an abandoned, historic barn into a unique and vibrant student activity center. Built at the turn of the century, the barn is on the National Register and embodies Clemson University’s agricultural roots. It was originally used as an experimental station focusing on healthier livestock practices. For the past twenty years, the barn was used for storage and exhibited signs of significant deterioration. The university desired to restore the barn and create a space that was truly unique to their institution. The program called for a collaborative space for students that provides an inviting destination for food service and nightlife entertainment on campus. The project provides a venue for concerts, crafts, viewing parties, and various performances with a coffee house vibe.

The design concept springs from embracing the beauty and logic of the original historic barn and inserting modern elements that complement that original design. Understanding and researching the barn’s design origins significantly informed the design concept. Through our background research, the design team discovered that the existing second floor was not an original feature. The second floor has been removed to recapture the open and airy volume that the flooring had obscured. In order to keep the interior space as open as possible, an Out Structure was constructed adjacent to the barn to provide supplemental bathrooms and to house mechanical units and storage functions. The floor plan remains open and flexible creating a dynamic environment for large groups while the repurposed masonry grain silos create a more intimate setting. In the process, the design team exposed all the original wood structure and then contrasted that with new materials to clearly articulate new elements from historic fabric. Restoration of major character-defining features included refurbishment of operable pivot windows, sliding barn doors, as well as vented louvers and cupolas. Integrated uplighting is used to highlight the simple and elegant interior and roof framing. The lighting effect is most dramatically illustrated when viewed through the transparent curtain wall opening inserted on the side of the barn. Located in an area where the entry point had already been modified several times, the curtain wall entry completely transforms the barn’s interior/exterior connection. The entry opens onto a plaza and green space where programmed activities can spill outside. This transparent, modern insertion offers a glimpse of the sofly uplit warm wood finishes and entices the students to check out the various student activities going on inside. The thoughtful detailing, creative use of materials, and clarity between existing and new have allowed the project to remain on the Historic Register and given the barn new life as a vibrant new hang out for students on campus.

Design Challenge

One of the major challenges for The Barnes Center was tackling the structural upgrades required for its new use. Built in 1904, the barn’s construction followed the standards of the time and was perfectly sufficient for the housing and care of cows and sheep. Today’s codes required significant structural reinforcement. Over time, interior columns that defined the interior column bays had been relocated which weakened the structural capacity of the interior framing system. These columns were returned to their original locations. Virtually all of the major connections of columns to the floor below and beams above required more robust and positive connections. These connections were more difficult to conceal, so they became intentional details to highlight the basic simplicity and framing relationships of a post and beam construction. A base plate that slightly elevated the base of the column off of the floor plane was used. The top of the column was spliced to receive a knife plate and a saddle plate completed the column connection to the beams. The lateral stability in both the horizontal and vertical planes of the structure needed the most attention. The siding on the longer facades was removed to be salvaged and reused which offered the opportunity to sheath that façade and provide more rigidity to the vertical planes in a concealed manner. In the horizontal plane, a series of tie rods were installed just above the loft level framing. The tie rods were painted black and their connections to existing framing carefully considered to keep them as visually unobtrusive as possible. With the removal of the non-historic second floor, the original framing and the exposed wood roof decking took center stage. Integrating subtle structural reinforcing strategies in a thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing manner kept the focus on the warmth and beauty of the historic structure. Discreet up-lighting of the structure above ensures, that even in the evening, the structural elegance of the building shines through.

Physical Context

The campus has developed over the years and has encroached on the historic barn. The existing condition of the barn, surrounded by an asphalt parking lot, felt very out of place on campus as opposed to its original context. The building essentially sits on a knoll, so it is highly visible and adjacent structures are mostly hidden due to the significant grade change on site. It is along a major vehicular route and across the street from the student center which has some related functions. The design strategy was to create a setting that harkens to the barn’s original pastoral setting while providing a modern collaborative outdoor environment. The use of the Out Structure allows the interior of the barn to be more open, makes a connection to past out structures that were previously on the site, and helps to define the open lawn. Students flow out from the barn, through the glass zone in the façade, to an outdoor collaborative patio that extends into the lawn. The Out Structure will provide a backdrop for a future stage that will allow the entire site to be transformed into an outdoor music festival venue. The site strategy and landscape design allow the barn to exist in its modern campus setting while making a strong connection to its agricultural past.