The Barn at Fallingwater

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Mill Run, Pennsylvania

The Barn at Fallingwater is a renovated nineteenth-century barn built into a hillside with a 1940s dairy barn addition. The 12,000 square foot adaptive reuse project, first phase of a conference complex for Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, is located on the non-profit organization's 5,000-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve in southwestern Pennsylvania, adjacent to Frank Lloyd Wright's world-famous Fallingwater. The program includes multi-purpose assembly and exhibit space, administrative offices, retail support storage, and space for local community events.

To preserve its iconic ambience, the architects reused the barn as a three-season event venue for receptions and barn dances. The barn's unconditioned loft space exposes the heavy timber mortise and tenon frame throughout the upper level and roof. It eliminates the need for a thermal or moisture barrier, allowing light to filter in through gaps in the vertical siding by day, and stream out of the structure by night. Home to a colony of brown bats for many years, the loft was decontaminated, and insect screening was applied to interior walls to prevent bats, small birds, or rodents from re-colonizing the space. The architects designed an alternative bat habitat nearby.

The loft floor, now part of the thermal and moisture barrier system protecting the occupied space on the lower level, was restructured to satisfy the demands of assembly occupancy and covered with a tough, recycled maple gymnasium surface. Toilet facilities and a catering kitchen in the loft are accommodated by 'boxes' constructed of straw bale panels inserted into the large space; at once a reminder of the barn's historic function and a nod to sustainability. Beneath the upper barn, the undercroft houses office space and windowless storage space banked into the hillside. An operable wooden slat sunscreen protects office windows from the western sun, while minimizing the new window openings on the barn's monolithic wood volume.

Multi-purpose assembly and exhibit space occupies the 1940s dairy barn addition. Removal of 1970s renovation finishes revealed glazed terra cotta wainscoting from the period when the Kaufmanns lived at Fallingwater and operated a modern, scientific dairy. Glazed terra cotta and glass block windows were incorporated into the materials palette. A chimney mass of local fieldstone anchors the space for formal presentations, while screening the room from the exterior entrance. Straw bale panels applied to the underside of the roof provide thermal insulation and acoustic absorption.

Site construction included vehicle and service access, ADA parking and access, and a visitors center terrace whose playful "twig-work" trellis defines the outdoor places, highlighting their public and recreational qualities while expressing a "return to nature". Sustainable features minimize the project's environmental footprint. Occupancy and daylight sensors reduce electrical demand. The flexible mechanical system employs a geothermal loop heat sink, energy recovery system, and micro-zoned controls. Gray water flushing and low flow fixtures reduce fresh water demand, while wastewater is processed in a zero-discharge reclamation system. Site runoff from parking areas is filtered through bio-swales to maintain the water quality of Bear Run, one of Pennsylvania's few Exceptional Value streams. A reminder of the region's largely vanished agrarian past, the Barn at Fallingwater eloquently expresses the WPC's mission statement: "Saving the places we care about by connecting people to the natural world".


2009 Green GOOD DESIGN
The European Center for Architecture and The Chicago Athenaeum
2006 Honor Award for Design
AIA Pennsylvania
2006 Merit Award
Wood Design Awards
2006 Bronze Award for Design Excellence and Responsible Development
2006 Commonwealth Design Awards, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania
2005 Top Ten Green Projects
American Institute of Architects, Committee on the Environment
2005 Green Design Citation
AIA Pittsburgh
2005 Silver Award for Design Exellence
AIA Pittsburgh
2005 2005 American Architecture Award
Chicago Athenaeum
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Related Links

External: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
External: Merit Award Winner, 2006 Wood Design Awards
External: AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects 2005
External: Committee on the Environment Chooses This Year's Top Green Projects