August 17, 2014

Palimpsest 2.

Commenting on the uses of architecture for relaying history, the critic Lewis Mumford wrote: “In a city, time becomes visible.” In old buildings, history becomes not only visible but tangible as well.  The years can be felt in an exposed-brick wall or a worn stone floor.  In inhabiting old structures-dwelling underneath hundred-year-old posts and beams-these residents are not just living with history, but living within it. There is a pervasive feeling that something has come before.

The designer John Saladino talks about the Roman philosophy of building one element on top of another, creating “layers of history.”  This preservation of history-not in a museum but in the midst of our daily lives-is the result of converting old buildings, as well.  Underneath the veneer of the new is a glimmer of the old.  

To describe the effect of the old layered with the new I use the word palimpsest, an ancient term for parchment that was used and erased when the original text was unwanted, then reused.  Intriguing traces of the old text were always still visible-and often legible- under the new.  Being able to “read” parts of the old structures underneath the new architecural “text”-seeing a smooth plaster wall reach up to meet roughhewn beams-relates past and present in a visceral way.  Respecting the history in these buildings is key to a sucessful conversion, and when the conversion works-when a balance is struck between saving the character of the old and adding the practicality of the new-the result can be far more exciting than anything newly built.

I find the back-to-basics simplicity of a barn fresh and appealing. Every barn comes with its historic fabric woven into the old beams.  You need not travel to the UK to find gems like these since they are everywhere an agrarian society was present.  But, some of the most outstanding conversions are British barns.

The emphasis of this project was to provide a high quality low carbon barn conversion.  The sustainable design features consists of underfloor heating and a highly insulated interior with triple glazed windows and doors.  The rainwater from the renovated barn, and new extension, is drained to a rainwater underground collection tank that allows a free supply of water for the whole garden.