Barn and art and engineering combined to create ‘Geobarns’

(Newport News, Va.) Daily PressFebruary 8, 2013 


Framing on the Blacks' Geobarn in southeastern Virginia shows the diagonal technique. (Courtesy Geobarns/MCT)


  • About Geobarns

    A Geobarn combines modified post-and-beam timber construction with diagonal framing and open-span truss systems without any internal support. George Abetti has been building Geobarns since 1991, and has construction experience dating back to 1968.

    Why the name Geobarns? “Geo,” for geometry and the diagonal framing, for George the owner and for the Greek prefix “geo,” which relates to farming and earth, according to Abetti.

    Info: 802-295-9687 or

For 2013, Sue Black is delighted to have her dining room back to use for its intended purpose. Gone are the woodworking tools, the sawdust and the projects in progress that have claimed it for 20 years.

Husband Doug is equally happy because he also has what he wants – a new workshop for his woodworking hobby.

Doug Black’s man space, however, is more than just a rectangular building with a roof, doors and windows.

It’s a Geobarn – part classic barn, part architectural art, part smart engineering.

“Geobarns have a number of signatures,” said George Abetti, who started the Vermont-based business in 1991. “There’s 2-by-6 diagonal framing throughout their perimeter walls and free-span trusses that precludes the need for any support for up to 36- to 40-foot widths. They are built with upper-eave beams that provide enormous strength and stability from the roof system all the way down to the foundation.”

“It’s very artsy but very structurally sound,” said Doug Black, as he and his wife watch Abetti and a Geobarn-trained crew from Arterra Design frame the 16-wide, 24-foot long, 20-foot-high building at the Blacks’ Buckroe Beach home in southeastern Virginia.

Geobarns blend modified post-and-beam construction with diagonal framing that uses less material than conventional stick-built frames. The open-span truss systems mean you get an open interior that allows greater flexibility in use and layout.

Abetti said he’s built Geobarns as small as 400 square feet and as large as 24,000 square feet, in New England, Virginia, Nova Scotia, California, New York and elsewhere.

“Geobarns are built for every conceivable use imaginable – homes, stables, farmers markets, art studios, auto barns, wineries and endless variations on multi-purpose outbuildings,” he said. “Each one is a work of art.”

Because the Blacks’ barn sits behind their waterfront house, built in 1973 to withstand 90-mile-per-hour winds, it also is engineered to deal with wind, water and sand from storms like last year’s Hurricane Sandy and nor’easters.

Attentive to every inch of detail, Abetti said he met his match when he began working with Doug Black, a retired engineer.

After Doug Black sent preliminary plans based on close-to-water conditions, small lot and working budget, he and Abetti went back and forth on a wide variety of ideas. In the end, they agreed on a design built on massive pilings driven almost 20 feet into the sand, and tied with huge bolts and Geobarns’ signature diagonal framing, which resists hurricane-force racking, as well as seismic stress – something felt during the August 2011 Virginia earthquake.

The building also features plenty of windows – Andersen Silverline with vinyl trim – and handmade doors of beaded Douglas fir. HardiPlank siding in a khaki brown and a 29-gauge metal roof complete the custom look. The design includes a winch beam on the street side to haul heavy items onto the upper level, double cupolas, stairs with architectural balusters in the railings and a floor system that can easily support thousands of pounds.

Most important to Black, a devotee of environmentally friendly construction, his Geobarns minimize waste, achieving a waste coefficient of half of 1 percent. Waste from the project, which cost $48,000, barely filled two good-sized trash cans.

“I’m just loving this, I’m so excited,” Black said.

Even though the building still needs some finishing touches, the Black’s are mentally planning where his TV, fridge and lounger will go – probably upstairs in the loft area, he said.

“I’m loving it, too,” said his wife, with a smile.

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