Raising the Barn
On the banks of the mighty Sacramento River, an instant architectural icon has sprouted from the earth, connecting the natural landscape of the riverfront to its modern neighbors ashore, all while making a bold statement about our region’s history and our new civic identity. Here’s how our newest urban landmark was born.
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IIt’s a barn. It’s a bridge. It’s a wing. It’s a seedpod. The word “building” doesn’t spring to anyone’s mind when searching for a term to describe the Barn, the sweeping, swooping cedar shake pavilion rising on the West Sacramento side of the Sacramento River between the Tower Bridge, Raley Field and Highway 80.
This graceful yet humble structure, which looks like something Frank Gehry might have designed had Frank Gehry been a Yolo County farm boy, is the physical and psychic centerpiece to The Bridge District, an ambitious mixed-use neighborhood springing up whole on a 180-acre site where agricultural workers once loaded rice onto barges for transport.
Dutch landscape architect Jerry van Eyck has designed public spaces in cities as diverse as Rotterdam, Miami and Las Vegas (his design for the first public park on the Strip just opened in April), freely mixing architectural and landscape elements. When he first arrived in Sacramento in the summer of 2011 at the invitation of Fulcrum Property’s founder Mark Friedman, the Barn’s developer, his first task wasn’t to examine the building site, but to parse the local zeitgeist.
Friedman had ideas on that score, gleaned from years of thinking about Sacramento’s identity. “Much of the work that Fulcrum does is trying to identify what’s great about Sacramento and make it visible to everybody else,” he says. “One of the things that’s so terrific about this community is our commitment to local agriculture. We really are the farm-to-fork capital. We literally feed the world.”
But as much as the plan called for a piece of “statement” architecture, Friedman knew he wanted something that felt intimate and naturalistic. “We’re trying to create places where people just feel comfortable hanging out. I know that sounds very simple, but for me that began with a vision of what I like best about Sacramento, which is sitting outside on a warm summer night eating dinner, and feeling the Delta breeze come in and cool the air. Honestly, the thing I like best about Sacramento is that it’s really lovely and graceful.”
“So the idea came up to design a barn as a pilot project,” says van Eyck, adding after a pause, “Of course we didn’t want to do a traditional barn.” By building such a prominent and public centerpiece first, van Eyck and Friedman hoped to set the tone for future development in The Bridge District.
Choosing a landscape architect to design a building wasn’t a controversial decision at all for Friedman, as few of Fulcrum’s projects to date could be described as traditional. A native son whose family owned Arden Fair mall, Friedman studied design at Harvard before earning a law degree from Stanford and making his way to Wall Street in the 1980s. He returned to Sacramento in 1991 and picked up the family business, developing property.
But talk to Friedman, 59, about Sacramento, and it’s difficult to remember you’re talking to a property mogul. He sounds more like a 22-year-old art student who passionately and naively believes that great design can save the world. Or maybe not so naively after all, since Friedman has the will and resources to make things happen.
“At bottom, development is a form of social engineering,” Friedman says. “We’re trying to articulate a different way for people to live, a different way for people to work, a different way for people to have fun.”
Friedman’s first foray in this new direction was the development of downtown residential lofts. The loft conversions and other thoughtful infill developments have arguably helped spur downtown’s renaissance as a walkable, livable urban center. Today he owns a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings and is the developer of the team’s new arena.
Another step toward realizing this vision was Fulcrum’s hiring of design director Stephen Jaycox in 2010. Like Friedman and van Eyck, Jaycox has a hard time coloring within the lines of a single discipline. Trained as an architect, Jaycox was the deputy director of the Cincinnati Art Museum and a founder of the San Francisco design house Perimetere-Flux, which made a name creating museum exhibits for clients like the Getty and SFMOMA.