Hog Heaven: Earthbarns for the 21st Century

The Earthbarn - a sustainable, patented design by Charlie Partin.

Sculptor and architect Charlie Partin has created a revolutionary design for an earth-sheltered barn that may bring a much-needed wave of sustainability, energy efficiency, health and beauty to farms – rural, urban, and suburban – as they raise crops and livestock to feed the world.

Partin says his simple, elegant and energy-efficient design can be erected quickly and economically, with basic costs as low as $50 per square foot. That’s well below typical construction expenses. Over time, he asserts, with reduced energy and maintenance needs, savings will mount substantially.

Partin has the talent, training and track record to give weight to his assertions. Now somebody needs to step forward and give him a chance to prove what the Earthbarn can do. It’s time to move the barn from blueprint conception into the field as a working prototype that can be measured, studied and emulated. The need is great.

In modern agriculture, the CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), which raise animals for meat, have created staggering environmental and health concerns. As reported in the The New York Times on Sunday, June 12, animals raised on a mass, industrial scale for human consumption are often held in barns which are unsanitary and can lead to profound health problems, including MRSA which is now widespread in hog barns and among people who deal with hogs.

The Earthbarn is a working building in natural concert with its surroundings, as evident from its both its structural profile, and from its actual above-ground enmeshment with the Earth and the forces of nature. Situated above-ground by design, the Earthbarn is buttressed literally, visually, and metaphysically through berms of soil which surround it, keeping it high, dry, solid and sleek against whirling winds.

By working with the natural forces of the earth, rather than against them, the barns provide low-cost, energy-efficient, light-filled and secure shelter for livestock. The barns could make a profound difference on farms not just in rural areas, but also in suburban and urban communities where so many sustainable food initiatives — from CSA to urban ag — are underway in the USA, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and in hundreds of other places around the globe.

Metro train station in Washington, DC.

In an interview, Partin told me that the first spark of inspiration for Earthbarn design came to him while he was passing through the Metro train station in Washington, DC, and beheld its vaulted arches. He saw a space flooded with natural light.

From this inspiration, Partin initially envisioned an earth-sheltered residential structure constructed on these principles: the Undergreen House. He produced a Youtube video to share the idea.

Soon though, the design idea developed further. Living in Steele City, Nebraska where he has established Partin Studios in the town’s celebrated brickyard near the Little Blue River, he was in position to recognize the acute problems faced by farmers who raise swine or poultry for human consumption. Partin’s vision rose to the challenge and he created the innovative, patented barn design. He posted another Youtube video specifically about the Earthbarn. To appreciate the barn’s design principles and elements, though, it’s necessary to watch the Undergreen home segment first.

In addition to their low cost and their physical harmony with the land, Earthbarns have three key strengths:

  • Air. The use of earth berms to support and insulate the barn creates a dramatically high, virtually airtight insulative factor for temperature regulation. Underground earth tubes bring in a natural flow of fresh air, while filtering the smells of outgoing air.
  • Light – clerestory widows running the length of the barn roof bring natural sunlight to the animals in support of their health and well-being. The clerestory windows bounce natural light into the parabolic interior of the barn, flooding the space below.
  • Energy – the Earthbarn design is energy efficient because earth terraces protect the structure. Thus the barn, while actually above grade, has the snug security of being underground and supplied by fresh air that is regulated by the earth to establish a nearly constant median temperature to maintain a comfortable environment. Consequently, Earthbarns consume a minimal amount of energy, and can be built as off-grid structures with minimal energy needs that can be supplied by solar panels.

With the patented Earthbarn design complete, Charlie is seeking an opportunity to build the first prototype so it can be tested, evaluated, and constructed widely.

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5 Responses to Hog Heaven: Earthbarns for the 21st Century

  1. H. says:

    Inspiring Design!

  2. Elizabeth Wolf says:

    Fascinating. The Earthbarn appears to be a promising possibility in conversations about animal welfare, urban agriculture, and even human dwellings. Thank you for this informative and inspiring article!

  3. [...] and architect Charlie Partin has created a revolutionary design for an earth-sheltered barn that may bring a much-needed wave of sustainability, energy efficiency, health and beauty to farms [...]

  4. Tammy says:

    interesting post. I love that you showed us a photo of the subway where the inspiration started. I think this is a great example of connectivity and thought put into action. Imagine all of the innovation that would be possible if we all took time to do this.

  5. Linda Wolf says:

    We are needing a new barn on our farm, and since I am interested in earth-sheltered homes, I have been working on designing an earth-sheltered barn to be made of 3 attached, domed concrete structures. I decided to see if any plans might already be on the internet and stumbled upon this article. I like the natural sunlight available in this design.

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