Adapting to Changing Times: The legacy of old dairy barns

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability
VIA Architecture

Western Washington has an architectural legacy from its former dairy agricultural past which is both valuable and perplexing at the same time. This area was once considered ideal for dairy farming due to its gentle climate and lush landscapes, producing brands such as Carnation, which became synonymous with “contented cows” and healthy milk products in the early 20th century (1). As with so many forms of small-scale agriculture, the family dairy farm began its decline as industrial-scale enterprises began to dominate production in the post-WWII years. The agricultural landscape gave way to suburban development throughout the Puget Sound area, but in many places there remain visible reminders of this architectural and cultural past. The challenge now is how to preserve and adapt these structures, particularly barns and silos, to present-day uses. In recent months we have visited three former dairy farms that are each rising to this challenge in distinctly different ways.

Petersen Farm, Silverdale

The Petersen Farm in Silverdale is a 167-acre parcel that was farmed for 51 years as a dairy and subsequently a beef cattle farm by Gerald Petersen, who passed away in 2009. His estate has been working with the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a Kitsap-based non-profit land trust, to purchase the development rights to the property in order to maintain the property as active farmland in perpetuity. Last month, with local business and community support, the farm’s fundraising campaign met its goal to raise matching funds for a USDA Farm Protection Grant. This is one of the last remaining large agricultural parcels in Kitsap County, and preservation of the area’s farming heritage in the Clear Creek Valley is an important community legacy.

Petersen Barn (credit)

Peterson Barn (credit)

An interesting thing about this farm is that it contains portions of three homesteads in the area that date back to the late 1800’s, when the land was first cleared. One of the original houses built by the pioneering Levin family still stands on the property, as does the 1902 Holm barn, recently placed on the Washington State Heritage Barn Register (2). This makes for an interesting archaeology in considering restoration work, and how to be respectful to several simultaneous layers of architectural history. The barn, a gable-on-hip style with vertical stave wood grain silos adjacent, is in need of basic structural stabilization work before any new uses could be contemplated. Preservation and adaptive reuse of this structure is going to be a big challenge.

To read more about this project visit:

Kinnear Ambold Barn, Fall City 

Also recently placed on the Heritage Barn Register is the Kinnear Ambold Barn, part of an original 40-acre farm that served as a dairy until the 1940’s. Much smaller in scale than the Petersen property, a portion of this farm is privately owned, left to a Seattle business owner by an elderly neighbor in 2008, and the remainder being donated to the PCC Farmland Trust. Its barn sits prominently on the Fall City-Issaquah Road, and is noted as a prominent feature on this historic corridor in King County literature (3).

Originally built in 1910, this is an English Gambrel style milking barn with an adjacent concrete stave silo. Deeply buried in blackberries when the current owner took on the task of building renovation, the floor and foundation were decayed enough that restoration was not a possibility, and a complete re-build of the lower floor was the only way to save the building. Working closely with King County’s preservation architect Todd Scott, the owner hopes to modernize the structure to meet current codes while honoring the building’s original architectural style, and provide the infrastructure to suit a future commercial tenant. The site is ideal for who could develop a business catering to interest in local agriculture, or some kind of commercial enterprise that caters to the cyclists and sightseers that pass by frequently on the Issaquah-Fall City corridor.

Kinnear Ambold Barn, Fall City (credit VIA)

To read more about this project visit: (subscription required)

Tahoma Farms, Orting

One of the PCC Farmland Trust’s most recent conservation projects is the 100-acre former Ford Dairy in Orting. In 2009 this farm was transformed, through the purchase of development rights, into three organic farms including the 40-acres Tahoma Farms. The Ford Dairy had operated for over 70 years and had over 300 cows at its peak; the Tahoma parcel received the bulk of the building infrastructure from the former dairy, including a rambling collection of barns, sheds, silos, and paved livestock yards. The challenge for the current owners is that their production is focused on organic fruits and vegetables rather than animals, so they have little use for such a large amount of built space beyond basic needs such as office space, washing and storage rooms, and equipment storage.

Most of the buildings are in fair condition, consisting less of traditionally enclosed barn space like the Petersen or Kinnear Ambold properties, and more as a large and diverse covered area of pole construction with trusses and rafters. The opportunity is there to eventually develop these structures into uses that are compatible with organic farming, creating a potential agritourism destination and diversifying the farm’s income stream. The buildings are currently clustered together in a way that suited the dairy’s needs; the design challenge for adaptive reuse will be to keep the best of the structures and create space between them for other uses to flourish.

Aerial of Tahoma Farms (credit Google)

Tahoma Farms Barn (credit VIA)

Tahoma Farms former dairy structures (credit VIA)

To read more about Tahoma Farms:

What these barns share, despite different settings and circumstances, is the challenge of adapting to a change in context. All purpose-built for an industry that no longer needs them, through a variety of ownership strategies, funding sources, and commercial needs, each of them is likely to find its way back to an extended useful life. Here are some great examples of the reuse of barns and silos that could be used for inspiration:

NL Architects adaptive reuse competition, Amsterdam (credit)

Happy Holidays from VIA!

For over 25years, VIA has sent out holiday cards to clients, colleagues, and friends. Thisyear however, in the spirit of the season, we’ve decided to devote resources toa new holiday tradition that will give back to our communities.

Staff inboth our Vancouver BC and Seattle WA offices donated cans, scratched theirheads, and worked collaboratively on a “canstruction” project. After buildingtheir design, cans were donated to the local food bank. Play the videos belowto see what each office canstructed.

Wishing youthe very best for this holiday season!


The VIA Team

Monday News Roundup

Happy Monday! Let's start the week off right by catching up on the top headlines in sustainability and urban design:

Living in Vancouver comes at a price (The Globe and Mail)
With a fresh mandate and another majority on council, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is laying out new priorities for affordable housing. 

How Planning is Like Growing Tomatoes (Planetizen)
An organic system is rarely the sum of its parts. Nothing demonstrates this as clearly as sinking your teeth into a store-bought tomato, writes Ben Brown...

In Copenhagen, gas stations are equipped for bicycle care (Springwise)
Norwegian gas company Statoil has equipped five of its Copenhagen stations with Cykelpleje centers dedicated to bicycle maintenance and repair.

The Benefits of Urban Forests (Planetizen)
This video explains how urban forests provide environmental benefits to densely populated cities that have felt a surge in health problems due to poor air quality.

A day in the life of a pop-up café (Sustainable Cities Collective)
For two years now NYC's DOT has been partnering with local restaurants to install pop-up cafés in parking spaces - creating vibrant public spaces the whole community can enjoy.

HopStop Infographic: Top Urban Travel Trends (Sustainable Cities)
Check out HopStop's infographic for insights into how commuters in more than 68 major metropolitan areas travel.

Addressing Climate Change Via Cities (Sustainable Cities)
This post takes a look back over the collaborative series COP17, discussing the best ideas explored and whether the agreement reached last Friday is enough.

Vibrant & Energy Efficient Social Housing Community in Scotland (Inhabitat)
Grödians, a vibrant social housing project, consists of 34 single family homes all traditionally designed but with major improvements for energy efficient design.

Folding Bikes Gain Popularity in Brazil (Planetizen)
Maria Fernanda Cavalcanti, a resident of Brazil, writes that folding bicycles "...have been catching the attention of urban cyclists everywhere."

Monday News Roundup

Here's what you missed last week from our Twitter Feed!

Transburbia: Tools for transforming suburbia (Transburbia)
An Evolving Repository of New Concepts, Processes & Tools That Can Help Transform Suburbia

Video: A Bird's Eye View of China's Rapid Urbanization (Sustainable Cities)
China's urbanization is happening at a pace never seen before. The following video shows a decade of transformation of 11 Chinese cities traced via Google Earth.

The Architecture of Banana Control (Sustainable Cities)
This article gives an introduction to the involvement of design for dissimulation or artificially inducing the fruit-ripening process. It is architecture pretending toward a condition of ideal nature.

Thoughts About Density (Seattle Transit Blog)
A response to both the oft-repeated notion that tall buildings and density are essentially the same thing, and the idea that what’s good for developers is perforce good for density and/or urbanism.

Bicycles and Chickens: A hidden side of Phoenix (Sustainable Cities)
A report of the third annual Tour de Coops, an event put on by the Valley Permaculture Alliance showcasing cool chicken coops throughout Phoenix. This year, an ingenious bicycle component was added to the tour.

Thumbs up for green architecture (Inhabitat)
While we’ve been talking about how cost-saving green architecture can be for some time now, a new nationwide government report has actually documented some impressive statistics that make it official.

Twin skyscraper design in Korea (Dezeen)
A design for twin skyscrapers in Korea attaches the two with a cloud-like pixelated cluster, dubbed "The Cloud" by Dutch architects MVRVD.

Raising Awareness of Renewable Energy - Not a bad idea... (Sustainable Cities)
Artist raises awareness of renewable energy with a public art installation in Durban. The sculpture is a giant interactive tree with lighting that is charged by numerous bicycles and solar panels.

Jan Gehl on Livability from the Moscow Urban Forum (Sustainable Cities)
This is a quick post to share a keynote presentation by Jan Gehl given at the Moscow Urban Forum. Gehl discusses urban livability, from reducing traffic jams to designing comfortable public spaces.

Monday News Roundup

Warm up this cold winter Monday with the hottest news and headlines from last week!

Sometimes all it takes is a little extra paint for placemaking (Planetizen)
Alyse Nelson describes the carefully placed and collaborative intersection painting of City Paint in Portland, OR as "community empowerment" at its core.

The promise of bike sharing to reduce emissions (Sustainable Cities Collective)
With the launch of NYC’s first system next spring, it appears that bikes and bike stations may become as widespread and popular as they are in Canada and throughout Europe.

2011 Holiday Gift Books in Architecture and Design (Daily Dose)
Just as the title implies, a gift list for design-minded just in time for the holidays.

Do we (still) need Vancouver? (New Urban Network)
Vancouver is known to have become one of the world’s most livable cities. This article discusses the many lessons we have learned (good and bad) from this great city as a model of urbanization. 

Why Montreal needs to tap into the "Development Charge" (Planetizen)
McGill University planners have released a report highlighting untapped sources of revenue in municipal funding. The most glaring of them: fees levied on developers to pay for city services.

APTA reports those who switch from driving to public transportation can save almost $10,000/year. But, in the real world, more Americans will take public transportation only if it becomes more plentiful and convenient.

Although urban planning used to be more connected with health, over the decades it has gotten more obsessed with separating uses and planning for automobiles.

A Simple Portrait of an Urban Place (Sustainable Cities Collective)
From time to time, a single image captures the look and feel of city life, and successfully depicts an urban place where people come together...

Achievement in smart growth honored by EPA (Switchboard)
One of the country’s very best, grassroots-led revitalizing neighborhoods and one of our most articulate city plans for a more sustainable future are among this year’s national honorees for achievement in smart growth.

7 Trends for Planning Post-Oil Cities (Sustainable Cities Collective)
In this post, Robert Bowen of Future Cape Town looks at the Masters Thesis of Allen Rhodes, entitled Planning the Post-Oil City, highlighting the seven trends identified and the opportunities they present for cities.

Friday Feature: Alex Sandoval

Since we last posted a Friday Feature, VIA has welcomed a wave of new talent to the firm. We start our series again by introducing one of our gifted urban planners, Alex Sandoval. Check back soon for more first-hand perspectives on what it takes to become an architect!   

Who are you and what do you do? 
I’m Alex and I’m an Urban Designer and Planner at VIA in Seattle. I went to architecture school back in Mexico City where I grew up. After working as an architecture designer for some time, I realized that I was most excited and interested about those large regional projects that influence the way cities are experienced. That interest brought me to Seattle where I did grad school in Urban Planning. It’s been 6 years already and I still have a lot to do in this amazing region.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was born and raised in one of the largest cities in the world: the great Mexico City with a population reaching over 20 million people. I suppose growing up in such a dense and chaotic urban environment made me quite conscious of the issues and benefits of living in a city. This is why I decided that I was not going to have a career designing sprawling single-family communities but rather to be a proponent of dense and compact living. Just like we recently heard all over the news, the World’s population has reached the 7 billion mark and it is projected that by 2050 we’ll reach over 10 billion! According to 7 Billion & Me, the day I was born there were 4,331,448,959 people in the world and since then 4,363,658,538 more people have been born. With all these alarming figures all I can think is that we need to make the decisions now that will accommodate such growth where it actually makes sense; re-densifying our urban centers while still making them livable. Big challenge!

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were very supportive however I was supposed to go into a career in medicine following my father’s footsteps.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
I had a lot of great professors and mentors, however, definitely the best professor I had was a close group of friends from architecture school. With these 7 guys we opened a little studio where we would get together after school to help each other out with our school projects, do some critique sessions and just overall talk and exchange ideas. We kept this little studio running for over 3 years and evolved it to a point where we were actually running a business submitting proposals and entering design competitions. At some point we were actually making money out of this so I’ll have to say that this true hands-on experience was definitely the best learning I had.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Definitely financial; It’s hard to live on a student budget especially while pursuing a design degree. There are so many expenses, materials, software, books... not to mention all that coffee intake.

What inspires you?
I don’t believe there’s one true source of inspiration. I’d rather believe that through cumulative work we come up with the best design solutions. To me the actual wow moment comes at the end of the process when you look back and realize the amount of work you had to put on just to arrive at a particular design. That is truly inspiring.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Urban planning is such a broad field that people from almost any career can be a part of the process; in fact, I would highly encourage anyone interested to include as many points of view as possible. It is important, however, that people that want to be an active participant have some technical skills. It took me 5 years of architecture school and 2 of planning to develop some sort of technical and design skills and I still have a lot to learn.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Good communicators.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
No la forces (Don’t force it). Sometimes we as designers can be stubborn and get stuck in one design solution trying to figure it out right at the beginning without even exploring other solutions; however, I have learned that design is actually an iterative process and it is through this process of trial and error that we can come up with the best design solutions. It is through this back and forth process that design teams learn a lot and develop ideas that at the time may not be applicable to the project but can be recycled in the future for different projects.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Big YES! I believe urban design and planning is something that is going to keep growing just as cities and municipalities are requiring more and better planning to accommodate population growth. Remember, 10 billion people by 2050, that’s a lot of planning!

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours? 

Get involved. Urban planning typically requires a public process so it is very easy to become part of it by just attending public meetings, design reviews and public charrettes. Participating in these types of meetings can give students an idea of what this planning thing is all about.