I Heart Barn Assemblages

February 26, 2012

I am a barn-admirer from way back. I admire most things barnyard, as a matter of fact, but that is another topic altogether. For now, I will stick to the topic of the arrangement of buildings around a farmhouse.

Barns and other farm outbuildings (chicken coops, corn cribs, tool sheds, etc) usually arrive piecemeal, as they can be afforded instead of all at once up front, so they are often not arranged Grand Plan-style but rather loosely concatenated as need demands. It’s hard to begrudge a farmer for throwing a structure up where it will fit in order to house this or that new stock or piece of equipment, but the lack of sense can be maddeningly unbeautiful.

I suppose that’s what makes a collection of outbuildings arranged sensically so precious, for lack of a better word. A milieu (pardon my french) of farm buildings of mixed sizes arranged around one another around a central open space is an image that reads safe and familiar while at the same time allowing for entry from without sand exit from within. It’s a portal between the unknown of the larger world and the known of the domestic. Not so much a walled garden, which is all secrets, but a courtyard: protected, but a passageway as well.

Compound is a word that often comes to mind to describe these assemblages, but that may have too much of a martial connotation, like Colonel Kurtz’s, from Apocalypse Now. Then again, now that I look it up, that may be a misguided interpretation of the word. War/prison is the second of the “collection of buildings” definition, but the word comes from kampong, the Malay word for village.

I love these especially much because they trigger a primal image of a scene of a courtyard in The Good Earth, a book I loved very much when I was young.

Now, to disconnect entirely from any association with that book, I would like to mention here that compounds, or courtyards, and being able to create them, are exactly why it is so important to be disgustingly wealthy.

Below are a couple of sub-par photos of a great bunch of barns from this morning’s country drive.

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