Architecture Students Learn Wood Framing at Barn Raising

Author: Rosalyn Wells

It isn’t every day a barn is raised inside of a geodesic domed building, but that is exactly what happened recently in the Stepan Center. Students from Professor Alan DeFrees’ Structures, Building Tech, and Historic Construction and Preservation classes learned the foundational elements of historical construction. The barn raising event was an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and see first-hand the construction and structural principles employed in a traditional heavy timber structure.

Charles Leik and Chuck Bultman of the National Barn Alliance (NBA) brought the quarter-scale model of a traditional Dutch barn to Notre Dame as part of an effort to raise the awareness of the historic timber barns that are rapidly disappearing from our landscape. This barn and others have travelled the country, visiting grade schools, high schools and universities to educate young people in the traditions, talents, and culture that are also disappearing from our modern society.

Students came into direct contact with the oaken timbers and their posts, beams, and braces, but also learned of mortises, tenons, dovetails, and wedges. They learned of the structural logic developed not through calculations, but of wisdom and refinements advanced through the centuries. Perhaps the most important aspect of the event is the experience of the cooperative nature of a barn raising and the sense of community that is needed to accomplish a project that today would be built with a crane and a few laborers.

Also on display and for demonstrations were the traditional tools used to fabricate heavy timber barns from the collections of Mr. Leik and Prof. DeFrees

In the historic preservation course, students learn about bygone construction methods to better understand how to preserve historic buildings today. Previously, students participated in woodworking demonstrations where Prof. DeFrees, who possesses an extensive antique tool collection, sets up temporary woodshops in Bond Hall and Westlake Hall. The students not only learn of the processes, but see the marks left by the tools. This gives them a firmer basis for decisions they will make in their future historic conservation work.

This project was one of several opportunities for hands-on experience this semester. Future classes will explore hewing with axe and adze, making moldings with gouges and hand planes, and shaping stone with chisels and mallets, among others.

Sponsored by the National Barn Alliance and the ND School of Architecture

Charles Leik, past president of the NBA

Chuck Bultman, architect with the Michigan Barn Preservation Network and the NBA

Alan DeFrees, James A. and Louise F. Nolen Professor of Architecture