Traditional tobacco barns owe much of their charm to the imperfection of wood. Built primarily in the 1800s, their exteriors have become weathered, creating a darkened appearance. Meanwhile, wood on the interior has enjoyed protection from the elements and retains a bright tone. In addition to this characteristic tonal pattern, the structures’ exposed wood clearly shows its vertical grains. These simple buildings cut angular profiles against their backdrops of the verdant fields and glens of Kentucky.
Tasked with designing the new Convention Center for Owensboro, Kentucky, Brad McWhirter, AIA, dreamt of tying his modern architecture to the antique flavor of the region. “We were trying to find a building typology and something to draw from that was a vernacular architecture of the area,” he recounts. However, the picturesque tobacco barns that dot the surrounding farmland and define the area’s aesthetic roots could not simply be imitated—their essential wood material would not perform for a modern community hub. A replacement was required, but what material could reflect woodgrain and match the right colors while providing exceptional architectural performance?