Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Employ Creative Renovation On An Old Barn Used By The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

By James Murdock

Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson—John C. Jackson, AIA, principal; Roxanne Sherbeck, AIA, design manager; Sarah Drake, AIA, project manager; Michael Gwin, Li Chuin Toh, Maria Velisaris, Kai Vern Tang, Jarrett Pelletier, design team Client: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Engineers: Atlantic Engineering Services (structural); H.F. Lenz (m/e/p)

Consultants: Marshall Tyler Rausch (landscape architects) General contractor: Clearview Project Services

Size: 12,000 square feet on 5,000-acre site. Cost: Withheld Completion date: 2003


Parallel strand lumber framing members: Trus Joist/Weyerhauser (Parallam)

Wood and glass windows and doors: Marvin Strawboard panels: BioFab Sunflower seed biocomposite panels for cabinets and paneling: Phenix Biocomposites Interior ambient lighting: Zumtobel; Spero Electric

For more information on this project, go to Building Types Study at

Although its name might suggest a closer physical relationship, the Barn at Fallingwater is located a quarter of a mile up the road from Frank Lloyd Wright's 1937 masterwork. Visually, the barn is also somewhat removed from Wright's aesthetic— the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a nonprofit that owns both buildings, stipulated as much when commissioning the barn's transformation—but nonetheless, they do bear a resemblance. Both Fallingwater and the revamped barn are at one with nature: one through design, the other through materials.


The conservancy maintains more than 5,000 acres of land adjacent to Fallingwater. Although it occupies offices on-site and in Pittsburgh, the organization needed more desk space and meeting rooms. It also wanted exhibition space and a retail shop that would be visible from the main county road.

At first, the conservancy thought only a new building could accommodate these needs. But since the group seeks to protect natural landscapes, and the staff felt uncomfortable with new construction, it decided to convert a nearby storage barn instead.

The Barn at Fallingwater is actually two structures set into a hillJames Murdock writes about architecture from New York City.

side: a large, two-level building dating from circa 1870, and a smaller, single-story addition from the early 1940s. Since barns are associated with the rural landscapes that are disappearing across Pennsylvania, the conservancy decided to restore this barn's iconic silo.


Bohlin Cywinski Jackson struggled with how to make use of the older barn's main space, a 5,000-square-foot room, with its primary entrance at the rear because of the grade change. Architects from the Pittsburgh office, Roxanne Sherbeck, AIA, and Michael Gwin, AIA, considered placing the retail shop on this level, but abandoned the idea since it would entail adding a bulky entry on the front elevation. Fortunately, the conservancy wasn't committed to a shop.

At this point, the architects had a revelation: just leave the big space untouched, preserving its barnlike character with unfinished, uninsulated wallboards that allow air and light to circulate freely. Such a decision meant the conservancy could rent out the space for weddings, conferences, and other events, bringing a windfall in income to the organization. The architects excavated its lower level for administrative offices and storage. Meanwhile, the smaller

A barn built around 1870 (opposite, inset) and a 1940s addition have been transformed into offices and a meeting center for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Located close to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater at Bear Run, much of the original structures' volumes remain intact (right). The architects added adjustable wood louvers on the west elevation (far right), and a trellis to shelter the front walkway (below).

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