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.

(page 2 of 3)

Long before the design concept for the Barn took shape, Jaycox and van Eyck took walks along the West Sacramento waterfront, talking and thinking. Jaycox remembers how van Eyck pointed out what would typically happen on a site like this: “[There would be] buildings bulking up as close as they could get to the river, so marching down a riverfront, you’d have tall buildings on one side and the natural ecology of the river on the other, not really feeling like you belonged to either.”The Barn’s developer Mark Friedman (left) and architect Jerry van Eyck

So they started talking about what else might be done. “This was really wonderful,” Jaycox says, because the landscape architect then floated a different idea, which was, “What if there were a few places where the wilds of the [riverfront] could leap over the pedestrian path here and lock fingers with the city?” No stranger to integrating nature into the built environment, van Eyck—who founded his New York-based firm Melk in 2010 and is also helming the redesign of Crocker Park on the other side of the river—serves on the board of governors for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, which promotes its legendary namesake’s concept of organic design.

With Fulcrum’s encouragement, van Eyck took the agrarian-urban motif, and got site-specific.

For instance, the Barn’s curvilinear overhangs aren’t just for style: The designer studied the movement of the sun across the days and seasons and optimized for 6,000 square feet of shade during the harshest summer months and light when the winter sun is low. “That’s how the idea of the nontraditional form came about,” van Eyck says. “We also saw resemblances in the vegetative material, the sprouting of a plant, so it became an extra layer of agricultural architecture—barn meets sprout.”

From top to bottom: View from Riverfront Street (looking east), from the River Walk promenade (looking north), from the River Walk promenade (looking west), and from the River Walk promenade (looking south)

As forward-leaning as the architectural statement is, van Eyck is also proud of the simplicity of the building materials. “The cool thing is that we found a way to stay true to how traditional barns are built,” he says. “Using computerized software, we could deliver this project in its nontraditional shape, but only using traditional pieces of material.”

This simplicity also helped keep the project’s budget under control, coming in at a modest $6 million, $2.5 million of which was provided by the city of West Sacramento, which has been an enthusiastic partner in the endeavor.