The Sheep Shed
Sheep aren’t indigenous to Australia but their rearing and shearing factors large in Australian history and culture.
True, sheep didn’t turn into ecological nightmares like starlings, rabbits, camels, cane toads and such but still, they don’t touch the ground lightly. They graze much closer than cattle and overgrazing by sheep has been causing soil erosion and denuding landscapes around the world for millennia. Of more immediate and global consequence is sheep flatulence at the rate of 30 litres of methane per day per sheep. The roughly 75 million of’em in Australia fart two and a quarter billion litres of methane (1,045,215 metric tonnes) per day. That’s over 1,300 times the approx. 770 metric tonnes of methane per day currently estimated to being lost from the broken well at the Aliso Canyon storage site.
It’s still not great compared to the global warming impact of CFCs but the agricultural sector is still responsible for 12.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and for 40% of methane. Percentages are higher for Oz.
I only mention this for some contextual balance. This post is about Deepwater Woolshed by Stutchbury & Pape Architects. As a shed, I like it, but I like it independently of culture and history both Australian or architectural. Sheep do local ecologies and global atmospheres no favours so, ecologically speaking, should we not tar this building with the same brush? Is it possible to like a building independently of its greater environmental context? OF COURSE IT IS! We do it all the time! We make and propagate associations with favourable contexts and propagated and ignore or suppress associations with unfavourable ones. The Seagram Building scores 3/100 on an EnergyStar assessment, for example. The environmental context in which Deepwater Woodshed is politely discussed is a favourable one but an extremely narrow one.
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Shearing sheds are, foremost, sheds.
There are pens for holding sheep outside, and more pens inside to accommodate two days’ worth of sheep to allow them to dry if they’re wet.
Windows are basic.
A recent innovation is to have the holding pens beneath the building.
Another is for the shearing to take place on a raised platform rather than the floor.
This makes life easier for the roustabout to shift the fleece to the wool table for grading. Deepwater Woolshed incorporates both innovations.
The NSW government website offers guidelines for sheep shearing shed design.
Much is written here, on “Oztecture”, about Deepwater Woodshed but I only want to mention things that are explicit. Sentences such as “The extreme heat experienced during the shearing season drove the placement, orientation, form and materiality of this building. The efficient movement of the sheep in a low stress environment and the technical requirements of the process of shearing drove the planning and layout.” do not prove anything.
“The building has embraced a range of design solutions to contend with the summer heat.” Fine – tell us more. “Alongside optimal orientation to capture prevailing northeasterly breezes that cross ventilate the interior, overhangs of a large portal frame roof provide shade to the walls and provide undercover sheep storage and access. A reticulated irrigation system sprays cooling water onto the roof. Large expanded mesh screens have been hung to the southwest, providing protection from the prevailing wind. Cascading water across these suspended surfaces utilises the cross-ventilating breeze and evaporative cooling, lowering working temperatures.” Huh?
One sentence says the prevailing breezes are north-easterly but the next says they’re south-west. Look, here’s the five-year average wind rose for Wagga Wagga Airport 60 kilometres south-east. Prevailing winds are due east. You can trust airport wind data.
The high end of the roof faces NNW. The rainwater tanks are at the eastern corner of the ENE side facing the prevailing winds more than any other side does.
Yet the screens aren’t on the SW elevation as stated, or even the ESE elevation above. They’re on the WSW elevation (below) downwind of the prevailing winds.
I don’t get it. At first I thought the writer had gotten themselves into a muddle but, even so, I can’t reconcile the locations of these screens with their stated function. It’s nice to see a monopitch roof all the same.
“Strip skylights provide natural lighting. The entire structure is bolted together; all linings, cladding and floors are screwed and fixed. Thus the entire shed is demountable. The usage of a structural roofing system was an initiative providing additional planning flexibility.” Good stuff.
“This project sets out to provide a quality work environment for one of Australia’s oldest trades. The resulting building has elevated the task of shearing at Bulls Run, while reinterpreting the traditional built form of an Australian icon. This is a sophisticated passive building in tune with land, man and beast.” It’s a shed.
It’s also a very highly praised shed.
- At the 2005 Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards, Deepwater Woolshed won the Colorbond category and was a joint winner in the commercial building category.
- It was featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
- It won the Blacket Award for regional architecture, the Colorbond Award, the Commercial Building Award and the Energy Efficient Award.
- Kenneth Frampton wrote about it here.
Frampton drops the full weight of his prodigious knowledge to bear onto this outback shed, making full use of The Fallback Context,
and The Cultural Context.
The Architectural Context is a subset of The Cultural Context. It means something is architecture if it can be likened to other, certified, architecture.
Referencing Katsura Imperial Villa has never hurt the reputation of any architect. Invoking Katsura Imperial Villa has never harmed the reputation of any historian. Here’s the money shot posed with window panels alternately half open and fully shut.
If we’re going to play Architectural Associations however, my first move would be Kenzo Tange’s first and only house of 1953,
quickly followed by Kazuo Shinohara’s first house of 1954.
My next move would be Isé Grand Shrine that predates Katsura Palace. It has a big roof (to keep rain off its walls) and is raised (to protect the contents from floods). These don’t just indicate something is important and worth protecting, they actually protect it. The history of Japanese architecture is the history of protecting things.
My final and winning move would be a Yayoi Era (300BC-300AD) kura (storehouse) that predates Isé Shrine by about a thousand years. These storehouses had a big roofs to protect the walls from rain and were elevated to protect the rice from floods and rats.
This bypasses Katsura Imperial Villa and Grand Isé Shrine and links the principles of materials, construction and environmental response of a modern shed with a shed 1800 years prior. Protecting grain from rats is clever but not classy. When talking architecture, buildings can’t be “elevated” to something below them. Most buildings can be given the pretentious posturing of architecture but few have the embodied intelligence of sheds.
Deepwater Woolshed is a shed, and a very good shed it is too. For an accurate assessment of what this building does we can turn to this 2011 issue of Australian Wool Innovation.
I’m still waiting for those Shearing Shed Guidelines to be posted to the AWI website. From this next article we learn that The Bulls Run Property to which Deepwater Woolshed belongs, was sold to the Paraway Pastoral Company.
As of January 4 2016, the website of the auctioneers, landmarkharcourts, still had the property details.
The 617.96 hectare (1,527.03 acre) auction included the 1927 homestead, a cottage, silos and other agricultural buildings. The reserve price was only AUS$1.3 million (US$1.1 million) so the US$400,000 Deepwater Woolshed couldn’t have been part of the package.
Analysts report that for large pastoral companies to focus on their main businesses, it’s quite common to divest themselves of properties not crucial to their core portfolios. So click go those corporate shears. The rearing and shearing of sheep factors large in Australian history and culture. Sheep still get reared and sheared but the people who buy, operate and sell the farms don’t let romantic imaginings influence their judgment. We should do likewise when evaluating the buildings.
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