30th Anniversary Pig Roast

Rural Studio 30th Anniversary Pig Roast Fireworks (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Auburn University Rural Studio celebrated its 30th anniversary on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27th at the 2024 Pig Roast, the annual event that highlights the year’s work and our home, West Alabama. The “Roast” in Pig Roast refers not only to how the pork at the final meal is prepared but also to the roasting and toasting of our graduating 5th-year architecture students. The event has grown into a two-day experience that features distinguished alumni speakers, stellar foods from local eateries, tours of and updates on Rural Studio projects and initiatives, live music, fireworks, and a shower of confetti (“Whiffle Dust”). It pulls together members of the Hale County community, faculty and staff, students and their families, program alumni, visiting architects, and university representatives. Often the Studio has a project opening to throw into the mix as well.

Pig Roast is its own experience, one that can’t be captured in a program or recap of activities, though you can read that below. You must dive in to fully understand. Imagine a day and a half with almost no cell phones in sight. With people shaking hands and hugging, deeply engaging in conversation. With everyone giving students their rapt attention and marveling at what these young people have designed and accomplished in such a short time. Picture a project ribbon cutting with a client couple who are so moved that the husband breaks out in a Gospel song, and visitors so moved that, in all their diversity, they hush, punctuating the rhythm with claps as his voice floats over the yard with the smell of the wild grasses. Close your eyes to see clusters of children running free on the grassy hill of an amphitheater, a few collecting confetti and proudly presenting it to parents who are sitting on blankets and letting music fill their souls.

30 years?!

100+ Rural Studio alumni in attendance for the Pig Roast 30th Anniversary weekend! (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

This year’s Pig Roast was an extra-big deal. Thirty years ago, Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth ran with the then-radical vision of putting down roots in a little rural community, hours away from their university to teach students the value of rural, to teach them that place matters and that good design is for everyone, to cultivate what Mockbee called “citizen architects.” Their commitment laid the course for Andrew Freear’s directorship, which began in 2002, and for the Studio’s educational success. Over three decades, the program has educated more than 1250 students at our humble Hale County campus. This year, the celebration included over four hundred people, with alumni coming from as far as England. Families of both founders joined, too.

First Night: Alumni and Dinner!

Alumni Lectures begin in Horseshoe Courtyard (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The first night’s festivities started in Greensboro with a spread catered locally by Mo Kitchen of The Stable and Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. Every part of dinner and dessert tantalized, but Sarah Cole’s dukkah roasted carrots left the crowd scrambling for seconds and thirds. Dukkah is an Egyptian dish of spiced nuts and seeds, and the lemon tahini sauce and chili oil drizzle had everyone talking. Other dishes, too, used fresh-grown foods from Rural Studio Farm. Alumnus Alex Henderson played guitar in the Horseshoe Courtyard, a space designed and transformed by Studio students between 2018 and 2021. Alex Therrien, who was also one of the speakers, DJed the event after the alumni presentations.

Alumni speakers represented many phases of Rural Studio’s development, starting with two who attended during the Mockbee/Ruth years.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Ruard Veltman ’95, Charlotte, NC
  • Steve Durden ’95, Nashville, TN
  • Jacquelyn (Jacqui) Overbey Hart ’98, Birmingham, AL
  • Trent (Trinity) Davis ’01, Mobile, AL
  • Abby Davis ’04, Mobile, AL
  • Hana Loftus ’05, Colchester, England
  • Brittany Foley ’09, Birmingham, AL
  • Candace Rimes ’10, Atlanta, GA
  • Stephen Kesel ’12, St. Louis, MO
  • Thomas Johnston ’14, Seattle, WA
  • Callie Kesel ’15, St. Louis, MO
  • Alex Therrien ’15, Los Angeles, CA
  • Anna Halepaska ’19, Montreal, Canada

They’ve taken a variety of paths, but each has been on an exciting adventure. In true Rural Studio fashion, alumni were earnest and self-effacing. In 13 PechaKucha-style talks, alumni reflected on their individual journeys, capturing the joyful spirit of chasing heartfelt ideals and passions.

Second day: Project tours and such

Day two highlighted work by students, faculty, and staff before turning to dinner, honors, and entertainment. It began in Newbern with a breakfast of fresh cinnamon rolls from local Wayside Bakery at Rural Studio’s Great Hall, a long, open-sided gathering space. Attendees likely doubled Newbern’s population. The group carpooled north to the first project stop, following Andrew Freear’s classic tropical blue 1966 Ford F-100 truck sporting two flags on the back: the American flag and Auburn’s flag. The Hale County Sheriff’s Office helped the long line cross AL-69. Drivers heading south respectfully pulled over, likely thinking they were watching a funeral procession. Far from it, though! Over the course of the day, this large crew learned about, toured, and celebrated five student projects: the 18×18 House, Rural Studio Bathhouse, the Fabrication Pavilion, CLT Core House, and Rosie and Frankie’s Home. The last project included a ribbon cutting, with a yellow ribbon almost the length of the home and a bow the size of a barrel top. And, of course, it included Frankie breaking out into the Gospel song “Jesus Will Never Say No,” pouring out his joy with a resonant voice. While these student accomplishments filled our hearts, we were also nourished by a taco-and-sides lunch featuring an awesome salad by Abadir’s, made with produce from Rural Studio Farm.

Visitors also learned from Emily McGlohn about the Rural Wastewater Demonstration Project that is testing a solution for the Black Belt’s wastewater crisis, as well as from Mackenzie Stagg and Betsy Farrell Garcia about the Front Porch Initiative, which is bringing Rural Studio designs and technical assistance to 24 housing provider partners in ­­­­12 states. Directly after lunch, Eric Ball introduced guests to the ins and outs of the Farm, starting in the greenhouse. Steve Long then presented student work from the 3rd-Year Woodshop Class, a course in which students use hand tools to craft three classic designs of chairs, in the process learning the properties of wood and the techniques for craftsmanship. Next, Dick Hudgens showcased student work from the 3rd-Year History Class, where students tour historical homes and buildings that have stood the test of time and become intimately familiar with their form and function as they produce sketches and a final Beaux Arts watercolor of an assigned building.

Woodshop Class presentation by Instructor Steve Long (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Pomp and circumstance

Parade to the Bodark Amphitheatre in Newbern (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The ceremonial part began in the late afternoon with a parade back to Chantilly House, just north of the main campus’s Morrisette House on AL-61, Newbern’s main street. The return to Chantilly was its own procession. The wee woo of the fire engine announced the parade’s arrival at least a quarter mile before local friend Bobby Scott pulled his truck onto the grass towing his black smoker. Students helped serve roasted pork and fried catfish, and still folks had their cell phones tucked away. People mingled and ate while Rural Studio alumnus Hana Loftus played her fiddle with Chip Spencer and friends from Marion Junction, AL. Bluegrass, y’all!

Whiffle Dust Welcome (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Everyone knew to turn their attention to the front of the Bodark Amphitheatre when they were showered with confetti during the traditional Whiffle Dust Welcome. The honors were many and the program substantial. Emcees Andrew Freear and Emily McGlohn kept everyone engaged with humor, sass, and an unwaveringly high level of energy. Samuel Mockbee’s wife Jackie and D.K. Ruth’s wife Linda were in attendance with their families for this special occasion. Andrew and Emily brought them up on the stage, as well as the Walthall family, longtime supporters of the Studio. The Walthall family recently donated the Red Barn Studio to Rural Studio, and we plan to name the main space after their father, Robert Walthall, Sr.

Auburn University Provost Vini Nathan was in attendance. Interim Dean Karen Rogers of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction spoke, and she honored Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth by announcing that each had been posthumously awarded emeritus status.

“Leftover” student Jake Buell received the Samuel Mockbee Book Award, a new award sponsored by Wanda Dye, our friend and former student of Mockbee, to honor a recent graduate with a passion for art and architecture. One copy of the art book, selected by Wanda, was gifted to Jake and another copy was gifted to the Newbern Library.

Dick Hudgens brought his singular experience to the microphone. As the only current Studio faculty member who has been there since the beginning, he spoke on the sense of place that the Studio cultivates and the “local identity” that students learn to appreciate so they can “solv[e] problems in a thoughtful and beautiful way.” A kindred spirit to Rural Studio, the extraordinary Roy Decker of Duvall Decker Architects in Jackson, MS, who gave the valediction speech, said “What is special about the Rural Studio is that it is a place with integrity searching for a better tomorrow.”

The group celebrated Brenda Wilkerson (who retires this summer after 22 years) and Catherine Tabb who retired this spring, as well as alumnus and instructor Judith Seaman, who is moving on to her next adventure after four years here.

The eight 5th-year students—the graduates—smiled, laughed, and mugged for the audience as Steve Long and John Marusich took turns roasting each one. First up was the Fabrication Pavilion team: Marcelo Aldrete, Anna Leach, Tatum DeBardeleben, and Laura Forrest. Then came the CLT Core House team: Connor Warren, Sarah Recht, Peter Harping, and Paris Copeland. Paris’s accomplishments were recognized outside of Rural Studio, and Andrew had the pleasure of announcing these awards: the BTES Edward Allen Student Award, the ARIA (Interior Architecture) Book Award, and the Meyer Davis Portfolio Prize Honorable Mention.

Just as Whiffle Dust (the confetti shower) ushered in the stage ceremonies, fireworks closed them out. The fireworks started with an intensity seen in the finale of grand shows. The audience tilted their heads back, immersed in the light, crackle, and booms. The folk-rock band Small Trucks (alumnus Dan Splaingard and Joseph Gorman) opened the evening entertainment, performing a series of originals and covers. Headliner Alvin Youngblood Hart then took the stage, wowing the crowd with his selection of blues songs. One audience member described his performance as transcendent, as music that carries you away.

Campaigns for the future, near and far

Rural Studio raised money for three different projects during the 2024 Pig Roast. Third-year students sold coaster sets stamped with the 30th anniversary logo; the coasters were made of the same Marmoleum that they installed in Rosie and Frankie’s home. (Marmoleum is a more healthful alternative to traditional linoleum.) Each purchase supported buying Rosie and Frankie a stove, and the team sold out, meeting their goal. Also, students staffed merchandise tables at events to raise money for the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). People lined up to buy apparel, totes, pins, sketchbooks, and posters, for starters, netting about $6,000 for NOMAS. And finally, Andrew Freear announced Rural Studio’s 30th Anniversary Endowment Campaign. With 14 slots filled, the Studio hopes to reach a total of 30 donors/groups pledging $30,000 each over the next five years ($6,000 per year) to ensure a solid future—a solid next 30 years—for its architectural education program. There’s still room to be one of the 30!

Thank you to our Pig Roast Sponsors!

We want to give a very special thank you to our Pig Roast sponsors: Alabama Power; Poole & Company; Seay, Seay & Litchfield Architects; AERCON; Bill Mackey Real Estate; Clary’s Country Market; Faunsdale Cafe; Greensboro Pie; Hale County Hospital; Patrick Braxton & family; Reynolds Electric & Refrigeration; Seale Holmes Ryan, LLC; The Partridge Berry; Blue Shadows B&B; NAPA Auto Parts; Peoples Bank; Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee; Dozier Hardware; Michael Harrow Realty; Holmestead Company; Stillwater Machine; The Smelley family; The Stable; Citizens Bank; A1 Fitness; City Furniture; and Wood Fruitticher.

War Eagle, y’all! Cheers to another 30!