Images by Tre Dunham, Cesar Lujan, and Monica Adams.
Opening Spread: All of the stone used for the barn and retaining walls at Oakhaven Farm in southwest Austin, Texas, was excavated from the property.
Since 1983, Blackburn Architects has been a worldwide leader in equestrian architecture that strikes a perfect balance between beauty, innovation, and functionality. The firm specializes in designs that focus on the three most crucial factors: horses, clients, and the land. The 16-stall barn at Oakhaven Farm, a family-owned-and-operated training, boarding, and breeding facility in the dry and rocky Texas Hill Country, epitomizes the principles for which the firm is known.
“It’s one of my favorites because it brings together a lot of what I try to do in my designs,” says John Blackburn, founder. “My designs respond first to the health and needs of the horse, then the goals of the client, and finally to the demands of the site. When all of those come together— when you get a pretty perfect balance of all that—that’s what we’re shooting for. This barn is representative of that.”
Left: The skylights over the center aisle of the 16-stall barn flood the space with natural filtered light. Right: The deep perimeter trellis offers much-needed shade and creates a gathering spot at the barn.
Blackburn is a pioneer in passive design principles, creating barns that “breathe” by using the natural elements of air and light to disperse heat and moisture through vertical ventilation. The firm tries to make the most of a property’s natural features. Its design teams carefully situate structures perpendicular to a site’s prevailing summer breezes, placing windows and ridgeline vents along the roof to encourage heat to rise and be suctioned out in a chimney-like effect. Solar patterns are also reviewed as part of the firm’s master planning efforts. Strategically placed windows allow sunlight to stream through the aisle and across the stalls, purifying the buildings by drying up ammonia gasses. These elements combine to protect the health of the horses and mimic the natural environment they would experience in a paddock or field.
“That’s a method I started in 1983 in my first barn, and I’ve been riding that horse for the last 40 years,” Blackburn explains. “It works!”
The use of natural materials, including heavy timbers, Austin stone, and warm wood elements, help the barn blend in to its natural surroundings in the Texas Hill Country.
The owner of Oakhaven Farm, who says she appreciated learning from Blackburn about how barn design and placement impacts horse health, echoes this sentiment.
“When I was first starting out on the property, I read an article about John that said he was designing barns for horses to make them feel like they’re standing outside under a shade tree, and that’s certainly the feeling you get inside our barn,” she says.
The owner also notes that the barn’s design creates a sense of calm for the horses they board at the farm.
“When a new horse comes in, they are usually a little agitated, but they immediately settle down in the main barn,” she describes. “They can see out through the Dutch doors on the outside, and they can look into the center aisle from their stall. So, they look around and immediately calm down and seem very happy.”
The barn is not only a place for horses to thrive. Its regional design with a contemporary twist makes it a signature structure on the property.
“I’m not trying to copy old barns in Texas, but rather trying to pick up what’s unique about the site, what’s unique about the area, and then determine how can I combine them into a design that works,” Blackburn says of his process with this project. “I’m very pleased with how it came out.”
The barn is built with heavy timber framing, wood trim, a metal roof, and local Austin stone, which was excavated from the property. Two large stone slabs that flank the front door of the barn are chiseled into the shape of the state of Texas, a distinctive touch. Additional limestone slabs are stacked into shelves that create handsome retaining walls around the barn, outdoor riding arena, and European round pen/hot walker. The stones are also used to create steps throughout the landscaping, which features clusters of squat, curvy live oaks that are native to the area. It all works together to help the barn harmonize with its picturesque setting in the Texas countryside.
A view of the barn from the covered riding arena.
The barn’s deep perimeter trellis is supported by hefty cedar logs that add a rustic element and replicate the beams on the front porch of the main house, which it faces. The pergola adds scale and incorporates a warm wooden design element. It also creates a desirable gathering spot and provides much-needed shade for everyone who uses the barn.
“It’s worked out great, it’s a very shaded barn, which in our climate is pretty crucial,” the owner explains. “The pergola keeps the whole barn much cooler than it otherwise would have been.” She concludes, “I can’t say enough good things, it has been a pleasure to have this barn.”
Left: The ornate iron gate at Oakhaven Farm is a warm welcome that represents the property’s natural environment in the Texas Hill Country. Right: The Dutch doors on the exterior of the barn enable the horses to get some fresh air and natural light, while the trellis provides shade, creating an experience like what they could have in a field.
Oakhaven Farm is one of the projects Blackburn Architects features in its second book, American Equestrian Design, which was released in 2021. To learn more about Blackburn Architects, go to www.blackburnarch.com. More details about Oakhaven Farm are available at oakhavenpartners.com.
Architect: Blackburn Architects
Builder: Advanced Equine Construction