Celebration, Exhibition, and Education – Fairground Design!

What are the three main ingredients of every great fair in our nation?

  1. Celebration
  2. Exhibition
  3. Education

Celebrating human achievement (having fun, people watching, entertainment, etc.), Exhibiting the best (commercial goods, livestock, art, technology, crops, etc.), and Educating your neighbor on best practices, and the youth as to the way of the future.

During the design of the Jacobson Exhibition Center (Exhibition Building) on the Iowa State Fairgrounds we decided early on that we not only needed to mix in the ingredients of a great fair but we needed to do it while involving the youth of the State somehow in the design of the building. Early on as Fairground Architects in the design process the owner had brought up the desire to work a barn quilt into the new building design. “What?” we asked, “Bring in a seamstress?”. No, not quite!

Our research showed that traditionally barn quilts are an 8’ x 8’ pattern (an oversized quilt like pattern – just like the bed cover you’re thinking of) painted on a wood block and hung on the side of a barn. The great thing about the quilts is that every quilt pattern is unique to the barn it is hung on. People now spend weekends “chasing” (visiting, documenting, photographing) barn quilts across the Midwest and eastern United States. Thousands now exist, a basic history of the barn quilt can be found by following this link or by doing a basic search on the internet.”

After research on the subject we came to the conclusion that the barn quilt’s traditional form as described above would not mesh well with our vision of the new contemporary structure. That is when we made the decision to involve youth from across the state – In the Spring of 2009, the Iowa State Fair Board put out a request from each of the counties in Iowa to create a quilt block to represent their respective county. One design was then chosen from each County. Each design, 102 in all (one from each County in the State of Iowa + 3 extra) were recreated in 16”x16” clay tiles and installed in a repeating pattern around the over 1000 foot perimeter of the arena/exhibition building. This feature not only showcased the talents of the youth of our State but, created an impressive architectural adornment and level of detail that was unique to traditional fairground design.

This is now a one of a kind destination for many reasons but, as this story goes – especially for those that “chase” barn quilts. This is the only place in the world where you can walk around a single building and enjoy 102 unique barn quilt designs, all in one location, and all on one barn!

The photo below was taken from the blog Write Formation.

Traditional Barn Quilt Example

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