Michael Bellefeuille

Michael Bellefeuille

Boston, MA, US


Carroll County Cooperative Extension

Sustaining Tradition: The New England Vernacular Reconsidered

The intent of the design for the Carroll County Cooperative Extension was to conceive of a project that engages the environmental, cultural and communal aspects of its place; to learn from them and build upon them in a contemporary way.  The scheme, then, is based on the traditional New England barn: a simple, but elegant structural system wrapped in a pristine box of cladding with punctured openings, and seated upon a heavy foundation, which is the same both inside and out.  The design, like the barn, is divided spatially by its structural system; and though very much distinguishable from its site, it is complementary and open to the environment around it.  The design does not seek to emulate the barn, but rather is conceived in the same tradition and patterns of the barn.  It is contextual in a way that adherence simply to aesthetics can not afford, making it both of its time and of its cultural traditions.

As with the traditional barn, the design is candid and employs a limited number of clearly defined elements.  First is the structural system: a heavy timber construction of bays, wider in the central main spaces, that also divides the space into distinct zones for circulation, meeting and social gatherings, and the office space while maintaining visual connectivity.  Next is the pristine box, the cladding wrapped around the structure and enclosing the space.  Puncturing this box are metal frames that encase the entrance vestibule, windows in the offices, the movable walls at either end of the central space, and the courtyard in the center of the project.  The courtyard is perceived not only as puncture, but also one of the three insertions into the box.  The remaining two are the concrete block insertions interrupting the box along its northeastern wall.  These insertions are treated much like the stone foundation of an old barn: the same concrete block, stuffed with insulation, forms the interior and exterior walls; and like the old foundations, they house support spaces.  In this case, those support spaces are the mechanical and storage rooms, the toilets, and the kitchen, which is lighted from above by a glass ceiling.  The courtyard’s purpose is not only to bring light and air when opened into the main space, but also to serve as a stronger spatial divider between the entrance area and the smaller meeting room, and the larger meeting room, while again maintaining visual connectivity and the possibility to be opened into one large space.

These elements provide the project with a strong, but simple language while permitting the space to be extremely open in keeping with the contemporary trend toward openness and accessibility, and away from rigid hierarchies.  The educators’ offices and workroom are differentiated from the main spaces by a wide stair and ramp giving them a sense of separation and privacy, while maintaining visual connectivity, making the educators more approachable physically and psychologically.  The courtyard, when closed, offers a degree of physical and acoustical separation from the other spaces for the larger meeting room, but the spaces always maintain visual connectivity.

The openness is also beneficial for the project from an environmental standpoint.  While the office windows and movable walls at either end of the central space can be obscured with wire screens when desired, the openness reduces the need for artificial lighting, as well as cooling systems as air and light can pass through the open space with great ease.  In addition, a green roof and rainwater collection system reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling, and well water.  Through these environmental considerations, the design achieves a high degree of environmental sustainability.  Equally importantly, through its reinterpretation of the traditional barn vernacular and the openness of the design, the project achieves a real sense of cultural and programmatic sustainability as well.

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Status: Competition Entry
Location: Ossipee, NH, US