Flaten Art Barn reopens doors next fall
February 23, 2013 • 2,575 views
The windmill, an iconic symbol of St. Olaf, looms majestically over the natural lands of campus. Nearby, in its shadow, stands the Flaten Art Barn. The little building, often overlooked by St. Olaf students, has gained attention in recent months as it undergoes massive renovation. But what is really going on down by the windmill? The project directors, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg and Assistant Director of Facilities Gregg Menning, say it is something big.
For several years, the Flaten Art Barn has sat almost untouched, especially after the completion of the Dittmann Center in 2001. Eventually, a decision had to be made: It could be taken down, moved or renovated. In the end, it was decided that the building should be salvaged and undergo major construction.
The Art Barn’s rich history may have saved it from destruction. After a brief stint as a Lutheran pastor, Arnold Flaten ’22 returned to the St. Olaf campus to lead the art department. During his time on staff, he designed and constructed the Flaten Art Barn as a place in which to carry out his work and teach his classes.
Although the final building was only one-third the size of the blueprint, it was a masterpiece nonetheless. True to his passion for art, he used the building as a canvas to incorporate many Nordic architectural elements. The intricate carvings covering the woodwork are a sight to behold.
Renovations of the Art Barn began in 2007, and many St. Olaf faculty and staff members offered their time and talents to the project.
Experts were brought in to figure out the best method for reconstructing the building while staying true to its original design. They used traditional techniques to cut and secure a new timber frame, which is crafted from standing dead larch and reclaimed white pine, meaning that no trees had to be cut down for this project. The carvings from the outside of the building have been salvaged and will be seen once again on the building’s exterior.
And reusing wood is just the beginning of the building’s sustainability.
“The Art Barn will be a self-sustaining unit and should actually produce more energy than it consumes,” Sandberg said. Oriented to face the sun, the many windows will provide ample natural lighting and reduce the need for electricity. The entire building is encased in thick layers of insulation made from recycled materials. Solar panels on the roof will capture energy from the sun to be used in the building.
“Once the building is heated, it should be able to hold the heat for a long time,” Menning said.
By the fall of 2013, students will be able to take advantage of this unique learning environment. The basement will be used for the storage of field equipment, and classes will be held in the main level and loft of the building.
The Art Barn will not belong to any specific department, and a wide variety of classes will be held inside its walls. Professors from the art, environmental studies and various other departments are looking forward to teaching in the new building.
Complete with a small kitchen, the space could also be used for retreats, meetings and seminars. Outside, behind the Art Barn, a projector system will be erected to provide a beautiful setting for outdoor movies or presentations.
As construction nears completion, students should be sure to check out the exciting changes taking place. Like most buildings on the Hill, the Art Barn not only provides a place for students and faculty to interact, but also honors the legacy of an influential alumnus.
After its completion, the Art Barn will serve as a place for Oles to grow and learn for years to come. As opportunities open up to register for classes in the Art Barn, do not let the distance be a deterrent. This unique learning environment will put a fresh spin on any class and is worth the walk.