Author: AC Priest

Can You Dig It?

Last time we talked, the team was preparing to get into the ground, so let’s dig in!

As soon as the team returned from graduation, we wrapped up our mock-up construction. We then stepped back and reflected on our details, figuring out what worked and what needs improvement. It was exciting to get a sneak peek at what’s to come for the actual units. Simultaneously, we started site prep!

First up on site, batter boards! (The drawing doesn’t stop in studio people!) Batter boards are a way for us to draw in real life. Each colorful string pulled across our site represents a line in one of our CAD drawings. Using a combination of strings and wooden stakes, we’re able to create a very precise footprint of the units on the ground. This helps us know exactly where to excavate the trenches for our footings as well as the final height of the CMU block wall.

Speaking of footings, we determined the appropriate footing size for the porch’s 14’ overhang. Pouring a really robust footing allows us to expose the thin “spaghetti” trusses marching along the porch header while still taking into account the uplift that may occur at the columns.

With all of our site prep up and going, we’re ready to dig. Cross your fingers and toes, and with any luck, we’ll be up and out of the ground in no time. Until then, over and out.

very cute kittens
The team also gained a few helping paws on site. Meet Okra, Duo, and Mouse!

Next Time You See Me, It’ll Be On Site

Since our last update, the team has been digging, chopping, drilling, and sawing our way through the project, so let’s catch up!

First up, mock-ups. To better understand the details of the project in three dimensions, the team jumped into a 1:1 mock-up of crucial project details and so far, we’re learning a lot. More than just dusting off our chop saw skills, building several details at full scale is a way for us to reflect and improve upon some of the decisions we made on paper. For example, we learned from testing the window framing that making the rough opening stud continuous not only creates fewer pieces, but allows a direct load path from header to foundation. We’re also testing the character of the porch assembly and how we can marry our desired aesthetic with required bracing for wind uplift.

To prepare to break ground, we called in a local contractor to do some serious tree removal that was beyond our capabilities, and simultaneously ripped up the existing chain link fence to create equipment access and give us a chance to fully assess its condition and salvageability. The site has never looked spiffier.

site before clearing
cleared site

And how could we not give a toast to Pig Roast?! The first ever two-day Pig Roast went swimmingly, minus the part where our team ran into a rain shower and came out looking like we’d gone for a swim. It was the first time many members of the Uniontown community were able to see the project, along with our parents, friends, and many Rural Studio alumni.

team at pig roast
pig roast fireworks

The following week stayed just as busy as teams prepped for our second Executive Review. This was a make or break moment for the future of the project, but after an intense two-hour review, all three teams were given the green light! This means it’s full steam ahead for construction.

team meets for stress test

Oh yeah, and all twelve 5th-years graduated college three days later! What a week! Diplomas might be in the mail, but things are just getting started in West Alabama. The team is taking a few days off to relax and be with family, but y’all better believe the next time you see us, it’ll be on site!

Also, a big thank you to our parents for letting us stick around West Alabama for this next phase: building the C.H.O.I.C.E. House. And to our 3rd-year friends returning to campus this fall, we’ll see you next time in Hale!

Digging Into the Details

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, the C.H.O.I.C.E. House: Emergency Shelter team has been gearing up for Pig Roast. The focus of the past two weeks has been on detailing the units along with testing different color combinations for the exterior cladding.

And That’s Design, Baby

The ultimate question we have faced when designing the details is, what do we want these units to look like? Even the smallest details will have an impact on the overall look and feel of the units. Luckily, we had three visitors who helped us work through this big question. First up was a visit from Pete Landon and Cameron Acheson of Landon Bone Baker Architects. They helped us understand the traditional way windows are trimmed, which we used as a jumping-off point for our current window detail.

Pete explains trim to group

Then, this past week we were visited by Rural Studio’s structural engineer extraordinaire, Joe Farruggia. We walked him through our raised slab and slab-on-grade foundation details to double check that our design would perform correctly. Thankfully, he gave both a thumbs-up!

axon of roof assembly

Since then, we’ve been working on perfecting the details of the front corners, which are major points of contact in the project. At these two corners, windows are wrapping the edge, headers are connecting to the wall, and the roof is extending past the enclosure and over the porch. Each of these connections is so important and will have a large impact on the aesthetic of the units, so we want to make sure it’s right.

drawing at full scale

Color Me Sheltered

One of the fun tasks we’ve been exploring is the color of our units! After an intense color study where we took every available metal color into consideration, we decided we liked a neutral palette the best.

We like the contrast of the light metal box underneath a darker roof, with a window and door trim color that’s somewhere in between. We think neutral colors will serve as a nice backdrop to the activities, landscape, and furniture that will be in and around the units.

render of current units
We created a new rendering of the units! Woo!

That’s all for now! When we make our next blog post, we’ll be college graduates… how weird!

Juno on door
When you realize Pig Roast is in 17 days and graduation is in 25 days… 🙂 hang in there y’all

Judgement Day

We’re officially halfway through the Spring semester, which also means we’re three-quarters done with our 5th and final year of architecture school…YAY!!! As the annual end-of-year Spring Pig Roast event approaches, it’s more important than ever for the teams to keep the pedal to the metal and develop their projects to be conceptually sound and technically constructable. In order to get in the dirt prior to Pig Roast, each team has to undergo an Executive Review with Justin Miller, Associate Professor and Head of Auburn’s School of Architecture, and Rusty Smith, Associate Director of Rural Studio.

For the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team, this meant revisiting our concept—now that we aren’t prefabricating and tightening up our drawing set—to reflect our newest ideas about the nature of the roof and porch. After presenting our work to Justin and Rusty, they gave us a helpful critique to move the project closer to construction. The day then culminated in some exciting news: it’s mock-up time! Because the project includes a small laundry space in addition to the units, we were tasked with building the extra volume before Pig Roast as a way to test out all of our details for the units. This means we’ll be working on-site sooner than anticipated, so stay tuned as we dust off our boots and start site prep!

Reframe, Rethink, and Redesign

As the Studio continues to host a revolving door of visitors who come and shake things up, the teams continue to reframe, rethink, and redesign their projects. In the past few weeks, we were visited by Mike Newman of SHED Studio, Katrina Van Valkenburgh of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CHS), and Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects, all based out of Chicago, IL. On top of their meetings with these visitors, the emergency shelter team also met with their client, C.H.O.I.C.E. Executive Director Emefa Butler, to discuss the larger goals of the project. 

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

The latest visitors were the Chicago duo, Mike Newman and Katrina Van Valkenburgh. They both have experience designing supportive housing (and in baking the best brownies this side of the Mississippi), so their expertise (and sweet, chocolatey treats) was especially helpful for us. However, they questioned the idea of prefabrication and challenged us to draw what the units could be if we stick-built them on site by focusing on where the current plan doubles up on materials. After identifying these material inefficiencies we previously missed, we realized how much easier and cheaper the units would be to build for a group of students who have very little construction experience. Stick building would also help solve our lighting issues in the machine core. In our charrette, they also challenged us to pay attention to the little things and dig into what the outdoor communal space can offer to the clients. This exercise was helpful for us to start thinking about what happens outside in-between the units.

Through Emefa’s Eyes

Next, we had the opportunity to meet with our client, Emefa, for the first time since last semester. After two months of hard work and guest reviews, we had a lot to fill her in on and even more questions about the secure boundary, porch, and her plans on future expansion.  

We learned that Emefa sees the project through the lenses of comfort, privacy, and security. She wants the clients to feel like a part of the larger community but also have a sense of security and privacy within the site. These main design considerations helped us conclude that these units should be raised off the ground and enclosed by a short fence to provide that sense of security, without restricting them from the rest of the community. Her thoughts, goals, and expectations are now a guiding light for us as we continue to progress the project. 

team speaking to client

Knockin’ on Prefab’s Door

After our meeting with Emefa we decided it would be best to take a step back, look at the big picture for C.H.O.I.C.E., and reevaluate how prefabrication fits into this project. Now that we know the next units will most likely be built by a group of volunteers with little construction experience, we have shifted our understanding of replicability from a prefabricated factory model to something that can be easily copied by a group of volunteers. Although we are no longer prefabbing, having that challenge laid over the project from the beginning helped inform many decisions that led us to create a clear and tight plan. The concept of the kitchen/bathroom core is still viable and will be built to act as the machine; the only difference is that we will be stick building everything on site. By closing the door to prefabrication, we can focus on simplifying the design to be more easily constructed and continue developing site planning strategies to create the best solution for C.H.O.I.C.E.’s needs and goals. 

sketch of construction workers and factory

The Wheeler in the Sky Keeps on Turning

Our next visitor, Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects, kept the site-planning gears moving by challenging us to zoom out from the bounds of our site and look at the larger neighborhood to find the normative conditions. From this, we discovered that our intuitive move to turn the long end of the unit toward the street is common in this part of Uniontown, that most homes have driveways somewhere on that long end, and that all are positioned further back from the street. We overlaid those discoveries onto our site plan and came up with a new scheme where the units are pushed back from the street, clustered closer together, and are centered around the big tree on site. These moves will help the emergency shelter units fit into the context of the larger community while encouraging the development of a community internal to the site. 

site plan

The Show Must Go On

We made it through a busy month of visitors tossing our projects up in the air. For now, we’ve got our feet back on the ground and some newfound direction. We are now working on developing our new site scheme, figuring out what we are going to do with the secure boundary, and gearing up for our Executive Review in mid-March.  

This was a long one, but we’ve got a ways to go. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and keeping up with our journey.