The Bascom

The Bascom is a three-story, 27,500-square-foot visual arts center located on a mountain plateau in Highlands, a western North Carolina mountain resort community. Its exterior is built on the frame of a hand-hewn post-and-beam barn constructed in 1838 and moved to the site from Pennsylvania in 2007. While The Bascoms exterior recalls the memory of the site as a scenic farm, the interior contains contemporary exhibition galleries, classrooms and gathering spaces sensitively juxtaposed with the historic barns old timbers.

Designed by the team of Lord, Aeck Sargent and DeWolf Architecture, The Bascoms main building is the largest of three other major structures on the six-acre site, which also includes an early 19th century covered bridge from New Hampshire that serves as an entrance to the site, and a rebuilt rough-hewn barn now a 2,500-square-foot pottery and 3D studio that was designed by DeWolf.

Lord, Aeck Sargent was architect for the exhibition galleries, studios, classrooms, art storage and exhibition preparation spaces, reception area, retail shop and caf in The Bascoms main building. DeWolf was architect for the main building exterior, including a 4,600-square-foot partially covered terrace, porte-cochere, elevator tower and the interior administrative spaces. Both firms collaborated on the master plan for the site, which includes a walking trail, brook and many scenic views.

The Bascom, a non-profit organization previously known as The Bascom-Louise Gallery, had been housed in a public library where it occupied only about 2,500 square feet, including both exhibition and administrative space. The client challenged the architectural team to develop the new arts center to look comfortable, relaxing and as though it fit with green mountain scenery, but that also would be cosmopolitan, up-to-date, contemporary museum space.

The core of The Bascoms main building is the 49-foot by 97-foot barn frame, whose heavy oak timbers were disassembled for the move to North Carolina and reassembled on the site. The barn siding, mostly oak and hemlock timbers that are more than 100 years old, came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia.

DeWolfs adaptive reuse of the old barn timbers and siding was important from a standpoint of salvaging old materials and maintaining the character of the historic barn and ensuring that the building fit in with the site.

Some elements were added to the barn, among them contemporary storefront systems at the main front entrance, the side entrance to the covered terrace, and the lower-level back entrance. These were floor-to-ceiling, full-glass doors with anodized bronze frames. The concept was to stay true to the form and materials of the old barn, making smaller secondary additions to the frame, just as 19th century Pennsylvania farmers would have done to their structures when they needed more space.

Other exterior additions included:

a 28-foot by 40-foot porte-cochere drive-through carport in front, also moved to the site from Pennsylvania and made of heavy oak timbers;
a shed roofed area for the retail shop and additional exhibition space;
a passenger elevator tower sensitively integrated onto the back side of the building; and
a service elevator tower to allow oversized artwork to be easily moved to each floor.

While the exterior design was about staying true to the barns historic character, the interior spaces are in crisp contrast to the barn frame and emphasize modern functions. Lord, Aeck Sargent designed the exhibition galleries using a white box approach to create understated, flexible spaces that showcase the historic barn frame and the art that The Bascom displays.

Most of the major new interior elements are made of white sheetrock, clear glass and dark metal. In places where the wooden barn frame would not work for the new loading and spans, Lord, Aeck Sargent inserted structural steel columns and beams. The steel allows visitors to easily distinguish how the original frame has been altered for use in its second life.

The overall juxtaposition of the warm, natural feeling of the wooden frame, ceiling and floors with the cool, modern insertions creates galleries that comfortably accommodate a range of art from the most contemporary to very traditional.

Entering The Bascoms main level through a vestibule, visitors find an atrium lobby as well as the main gallery, reception area and retail shop, which features arts and crafts made by regional
artists. To the side of the lobby is the covered terrace with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. A catering kitchen on the main floor serves the caf, which has seating on the terrace, in the main lobby and on the upper level. The balcony gallery on the upper level overlooks the atrium lobby below and opens to a large upper level gallery with a loft-like feel. The lower level features space for a greatly expanded art education program. Included are a childrens studio, wet studio and gallery. There is also a 2D studio for adults and an artist-in-residence studio. Also on the lower level are administrative spaces, art storage rooms and an exhibition preparation room.


Project Type


Highlands, North Carolina,