Reimagining an Iconic Midwestern Structure, Catie Newell Cuts a Slice of Sky Out of a Michigan Barn
In the township of Hume in rural eastern Michigan, an unassuming barn stands sentry in a wide-open field, partially covered in wild vines and grasses. Like many Midwestern farm structures, it’s weathered and has seen years of use and repairs, but one recent alteration makes it a standout among its counterparts: a careful cut through the middle of the structure reveals a slice of sky. Conceived by Detroit-based architect and educator Catie Newell, founder of Alibi Studio, the project reworks the iconic framework of an aging farm building to allow light through an unexpected aperture.
A team of more than two dozen construction professionals and volunteers collaborated on Secret Sky’s transformation, which is part of an ongoing series of barn interventions in rural parts of the state that are commissioned by Greater Port Austin Art and Placemaking. The nonprofit’s project 53 North works with creative practitioners to adapt and save unused, aging, wooden barns in the region.
To make the massive cut for Secret Sky, original materials were patiently reworked and replaced by hand, including restructuring the overall design so that major beams and a column could be removed to open up the new space. Simultaneously subtracting a large volume and also adding a new area, visitors can now pass through what Newell describes as a merging of building and landscape and “a gift to the sky.” Both meditative and striking in the daytime, at twilight the barn is illuminated and glows lantern-like, casting long shadows across the field as light escapes through the slats in the walls.
As part of the ongoing project to preserve the building, Newell is currently raising funds to replace the original roof shingles and protect it for years to come. You can donate to support Secret Sky at 53 North and learn more on Newell’s website.
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