Designs Within Reach 2014

Thanks to some big thinkers and talented designers, our region’s architectural profile is poised to rise in the next few years, both literally and figuratively. Here’s a preview of some of our faves.

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The Barn

Estimated Opening: 2016

The Barn is intended to express a visual extension of the riverfront. (Renderings courtesy of Fulcrum.)



The Sacramento River rolls lazily by on this hot May afternoon. Birdsong floats out of the cottonwood trees lining its wild banks while a desultory breeze blows patchy ripples across the surface. In a nearby field, already filled with browning grass, a jackrabbit lopes by, late for nothing and taking his time.

It’s an idyllic slice of serenity, but raise your eyes and you’ll see downtown’s skyline directly across the shore from this riverfront plot of West Sacramento near the River Walk trail and just a home run’s distance from Raley Field.

“That’s really the promise this property has to offer,” says developer Mark Friedman, who is also at the helm of the new arena design. “It’s a place where nature and the city come together.” Standing on a patch of land that he’s about to transform with a free-flowing modernist structure dubbed “The Barn,” Friedman hopes the public space will draw locals to eat, drink, lounge and celebrate a collective agricultural heritage made possible by the water flowing just a few feet away.

“It’s not well understood that this close to downtown you can be this close to nature,” he adds. “While the structure doesn’t reflect a barn, the design DNA evokes an agrarian structure. It’s a physical response to the experience we were trying to create.”

The Barn promises to deliver on that experience that Friedman and almost every other Sacramentan loves: the indoor-outdoor living of a mostly mild climate—from warm summer nights cooled by the delta breeze and a cocktail or two, to the fall mornings with a cold bite in the air and a hot cup of coffee to fend it off. Friedman hopes that as early as next spring, The Barn will serve as a stopping point to savor those scenes. It will also double as a nexus for community happenings and an architectural expression of the region’s agricultural identity and philosophy.

And it’s part and parcel of Friedman’s larger vision nearby, where his Park Moderns residential project—homes encircling a small park with century-old olive trees to form a communal front yard—strives to redefine urban living, and is set to welcome its first residents this fall, breathing new life into the nascent Bridge District.

For The Barn, Friedman enlisted the help of Dutch landscape designer Jerry van Eyck, a man he describes as one of his “architectural heroes,” and whose New York firm !melk is currently working on projects like a renovation of the public spaces along the Las Vegas Strip and an expansion of the Mercedes-Benz campus in Germany.

In Sacramento, van Eyck envisioned a land-based “bridge,” with two rounded “pods” anchoring a curvaceous span that almost mimics a bend in the river—an amorphous design he compares to a “sprouting vegetable seed.” The bridge, about 85 feet across at its widest point, creates shade (like a neo-Druid, van Eyck incorporated the seasonal movement of the sun into his concept to provide maximum summer coverage and access for warming rays in the cold months) and a 5,100-square-foot outdoor “room” underneath with protected seating and unobstructed water views. At 182 feet long, the structure is big enough to house a stage for music festivals or tables for more formal happenings. A local restaurateur (yet to be chosen) will manage the food and drink offerings, but Friedman is aiming for simple but superior; think Napa’s wildly popular gourmet diner Gott’s Roadside.

The space under the structure is designed for year-round use.

The pods at each end feature enclosed spaces—one with a kitchen and the other with an interpretive center that will explain the design ethos. While the ideology of The Barn is progressive, the materials used to build it are intentionally ordinary. The entire outer skin consists of virtually identical off-the-shelf cedar shingles. Despite the structure’s curvilinear form, it will be almost entirely constructed out of straight planks.

The cedar shingles, adds Stephen Jaycox, head of design for Friedman’s firm Fulcrum, will weather inconsistently, creating gradients of grey with maturity.

“This is really going to develop and turn more beautiful with age,” says Jaycox, adding that the silhouette and the way time will change its appearance will enhance the design by ensuring that no two views of the building are ever the same. That ongoing transformation increases its feel of being a part of the uncultivated surroundings and an extension of the freedom and emotion of the river, making it the perfect place for a civilized and sophisticated stop in the wild.

“Landscape, building or art?” he asks. “I love that ambiguity in this thing.”

NEXT: A 41-story hotel and condo tower vying to become the tallest skyscraper in Sacramento.