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Apparently, the designers agree that incorporating numerous skylights into the design seems to be the biggest single change in barn architecture. It has become the norm.

And why not? Skylights provide the double benefit of both natural light and natural ventilation. “Light and ventilation are the biggest ‘green things’ to consider when designing,” Martinolich adds. “Plus they just make a barn so much more pleasant. You want to leave a dark, cave-like barn as quickly as you can. But a bright, well-ventilated barn or arena has a whole different feeling. You don’t want to leave.”

Venting cupolas, clerestory windows, skylights, and sliding doors in a riding ring make for a pleasurable indoor experience in Long Island, N.Y. (Old Town Barns)

This feeling of brightness can be enhanced even more with some simple ideas. An indoor arena, painted white or a light color, fitted with adequate skylights, would never need electric lighting during the day, and it would feel as bright as the outdoors. Using translucent rather than clear skylights helps to eliminate shadows that may alarm horses.

Just as location determines barn design, it also affects the choice of materials. Many people naturally gravitate to wood. It is warm, traditional, and may be the most economical, especially if it is locally sourced–for example Southern Yellow pine in Georgia, or Douglas fir in the Pacific Northwest. Martinolich notes, “People like the look of wood barns, but then there are issues of fire, maintenance, and horse chewing. And once it’s painted, it has to be repainted over and over. In the end, everything is a compromise. We try to help owners make informed decisions.”

Martinolich often recommends concrete block construction. It is durable, tighter for cold climates, cooler for warm climates, and fire resistant, and it can be styled in finishes that range from classic to modern. Although it may be initially more expensive, it is often cheaper in the long run.

Steel construction has its place as well, especially in large clear-span structures like indoor arenas. As these photos show, standard prefab steel components can be used and customized in many ways to achieve light, bright spaces that are attractive both inside and out.

Oakhaven, a 90-acre ranch in Austin, Texas, uses local stone. (Tre Dunham for Blackburn Architects)

A hilltop Virginia farm, designed to work with the climate. (Pegasus Design Group)

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