Blackburn Architects of Washington, D.C., a longtime specialist in equestrian design, has recently released a collection of four ready-to-build, sustainable barns for horse owners interested in stabling facilities with a low environmental impact. Designs in the Blackburn "greenbarns" collection include open stalls for horses, as well as work, storage, and service rooms.

In its 26-year history, Blackburn Architects has completed 150 horse farm or ranch projects around the United States, each reflecting and complementing the vernacular architecture of its region. But the firm's approach to barn design is more than simply aesthetic, says senior principal John Blackburn, AIA. Because the horses inside can be worth far more than the barn itself, sustainability—and the health and safety of the animal—are emphasized. Building materials, finishes, and interior climate all contribute to the animal's well-being, so each of Blackburn's projects—whether for private clients or agricultural organizations—has employed passive design and as many natural materials as possible.

"Horses are meant to live wild, and bringing them into a barn changes their living conditions," Blackburn explains. "The barn has to duplicate the natural environment." To that end, his barn designs emphasize natural ventilation, creating interior climate conditions that closely resemble those of the outdoors.

Blackburn designed the greenbarns collection as a more sustainable, feature-rich, and affordable alternative to custom-designed and prefabricated and kit facilities currently on the market. The equestrian community is growing increasingly concerned about energy efficiency and sustainability. "Ninety-five percent of potential clients who contact us are in favor of energy-efficient and green design when we bring it up," Blackburn says. The firms' greenbarns are designed to meet LEED guidelines, although there currently is no LEED certification system for agricultural buildings.

The four models fit the basic needs of the market, but Blackburn says the materials and finishes of each model can be adapted to fit the context of any region. Each greenbarn can be configured with four to eight stalls and an open aisle, with eight to 16 stalls and a courtyard, with six to 12 stalls and a central aisle, or with 12 to 24 stalls and a central aisle. Two of the models are designed for optimum functionality in warm or humid climates; the other two are suitable for any region but work especially well in cooler climates.

Available in sizes ranging from 2,300 square feet to 10,300 square feet, greenbarns incorporate materials such as reflective roofing, recycled-content concrete, low-VOC stains and sealants, FSC-certified wood, and recycled rubber brick flooring.

Like all of Blackburn's custom equestrian facilities, greenbarns models are based on passive design principles and incorporate energy-efficient systems. A continuous ridge skylight and high clerestory windows provide natural daylighting and create a thermal chimney effect to naturally ventilate interiors. The designs rely on vertical air circulation to drive damp, stale, and contaminated air out through roof vents and draw in fresh air, ensuring a healthy environment for horses. Daylighting also minimizes the use of electrical lighting, conserving energy and reducing the risk of fire. Permeable floor surfaces facilitate drainage and help maintain a clean interior.

Blackburn's greenbarns also can be outfitted with renewable energy generation systems based on the sources available and on the client's site and budget. Owners can choose to incorporate photovoltaics, geothermal wells, or wind turbines to generate electricity and graywater or rainwater-harvesting systems to conserve water.

Actual construction costs will vary depending on the client's choices and region, with the plans alone priced at roughly $3,000 to $6,000. The firm offers several purchase options, including a "Plans Plus" architectural consulting service for optimal siting and a turnkey design/build service option.

To view specifications for all four greenbarns models, visit