Author: Meagan Mitchell

The Start of the Home Stretch

Welcome back to the 18×18 House blog, summer edition!

Meagan and Julie with Detyrick

Temperatures have officially risen in Hale County, and the 18×18 House team has had several milestones in the past month. Drywall was installed, trees were planted, siding is going up, paint is on the walls…

First, at the start of the summer, the team had to say “See you later” to Naomi, who traveled back home to South Africa. But this isn’t goodbye! We hope to see her back before the project opening.

18x18 Team

Digging the Groundwork

Then Jake, Julie, and Meagan got going on planting trees around the house, which was more work than you might think! They needed holes much larger and deeper than their containers, and plenty of water to protect them from the summer heat. Thanks for the beautiful trees goes to Plantation Tree Company near Selma, who donated all four!

And some shenanigans were involved, as usual.

Jake watering tree

We also had a visitor this month! Thanks to Jake’s sister Ella, we were able to set and cover the French drains on site, to help control water flow around the house. French drain systems include perforated pipes that are buried with gravel, to keep water from pooling around the property. Ours will funnel water away from the eaves of the house and from the porch. And after we put her to work shoveling gravel in the summer heat, Ella will never come to see us again.

Siding! And a porch!

We also wrapped all four sides in battens and purlins, to which the siding will be attached. The strips of wood are going to hold the upper portions of our siding a couple inches out from the house, to make a shadow line and hide refrigerant lines from the air conditioning system. The eastern façade is the first one completed, and isn’t it satisfying?

Soon, the steel porch roof will be installed, which was fabricated for the team by Superior Metal Works in Newbern, and delivered to site. It’s a big part of the exterior of the house, so we were eagerly awaiting its delivery!


Amongst all the work outside, the most exciting part of the month was the drywall installation! There’s a huge difference inside the house now, and we’re so happy to see how light fills the spaces. Painting started right away so that interior finish work can begin soon. That means taping a LOT of corners and using very long extension rollers to get to that double-height ceiling.

The light in the house with drywall installed is better and brighter than we could have hoped. How ’bout them windows?

The summer is passing in a whirlwind at the 18×18 House, and the opening is in sight! We’re going full speed ahead with finishes, inside and outside. Stay tuned to see the end of our story!

Starting the Summer at the 18×18 House

The 18×18 House team has been BUSY! The end of the spring semester came fast, bringing a big ol’ Pig Roast celebration with it. Dozens of family members, friends, and alumni crowded around the house to see what this project is all about. We had a great time sharing the work, and figured out just how many guests can fit onto two parking spaces…

Post-Roast Tasks: Roofing

After the fun of Pig Roast, the “18s” hit the ground (or the scaffolding?) running to get the roof installed. Without a watertight roof, the team couldn’t install insulation or drywall, so it was the priority. The first step was laying rigid insulation over the roof sheathing, then attaching purlins across the top. These purlins will be what the metal panels are screwed into later.

Then all the corners and edges got metal flashing installed on them. The whole roof was outlined in metal profiles to keep water OUT!

The team laid the metal roof panels across the length of the house, attaching them one by one. The back side of the roof was the easy part, but then it was time for the dormer…

Before installing the metal on the front, the team had to install the roof and the siding panels on the dormer. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a way to reach the dormer walls later. Meagan and Jake did some tricky flashing work from the scaffolding to install everything over the purlins and insulation. And then, a finished dormer emerged!

The rest of the panels went on smoothly after that. And isn’t it pretty? After it was finally done, Meagan took a break.

Insulation Nation

But no time to stop! As soon as the roof was finished, it was time to insulate. The 18s stuffed the house full of hemp wool and mineral wool batts. And then some more mineral wool. And then some more… Let’s just say there was plenty to do. Meagan had to take another break.

Closing in the Walls

The last step before drywall can be installed was to hang cement board in the bathroom. Cement board is a water-resistant substitute for drywall in showers and other wet areas of a house. The team will be tiling the walls of the shower later on, and this will provide a sturdy base for it. Julie and Meagan measured each panel, scored them with a utility knife, and broke them along the scored edges. Then Meagan took a break, again.

And drywall was delivered to the house this month! We watched as the sheets were lifted into the house through upstairs windows. It all fit inside just fine, and the house is once again crowded with materials. All that’s left now is to hang it up!

We aren’t the only ones eager to see what will come next at the 18×18 House. Watch out to see what happens as summer goes on!

Kitten in doorway

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!

Springing to the Third Annual Farm Dinner

For the third year running, we gathered to enjoy the Spring Fest Farm Dinner.

Carrot soup

The dinner spotlights small-scale sustainable agriculture, features community members exploring methods to support our local food system, and celebrates local foods with a farm-fresh meal.

The evening began with a golden hour tour of the Rural Studio Farm led by the Farm Manager, Eric Ball. Eric showed us around the Farm and greenhouse and explained the mission, to serve as a model for sustainable agriculture and student engagement, integrating educational, environmental, and social goals.

Following the tour, Emily McGlohn led everyone to the far corner of campus for an exclusive look into the new wastewater treatment system. She has piloted Rural Studio’s partnership with a statewide consortium to demonstrate the effectiveness of implementing a cluster-design sanitary sewer in rural areas, upgrading local residences with problematic septic systems to enhance rural community health.

Finally, we shared dinner in the Great Hall. The meal was crafted by Santa Fe residents, Brad Hart and Johanna Gilligan, friends and consultants of Rural Studio.

The meal started with a soup: a smooth blend of fresh carrots and ginger, garnished with chopped herbs. Next, the salad course featured farm-fresh lettuce and other veggies, tossed in a creamy herb dressing.

Set dinner table

A southern-style cassoulet was the star and main course of the evening, a hearty and flavorful dish featuring smoked pork sausage, tender white beans, chicken, and leafy greens, slow-cooked to perfection with Southern spices.

Finally, for dessert, there was an Aperol Spritz Trifle Cake, a unique dessert layering the flavors of orange prosecco cake and Aperol pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and garnished with fresh mint.

In addition to Rural Studio faculty and staff, we were thrilled to have all these friends join us. Thank you for a wonderful evening!

Barbara Williams, Newbern Library

Newbern, AL

Sarah Cole, Abadir’s & Black Belt Food Project

Greensboro AL

John Dorsey,  Project Horseshoe Farms 

Greensboro, AL

LaShanda Richardson and Sarah Hallmark, Projet Horseshoe Farms

Greensboro, AL

Jenna Hartstein & Sam Somerville, Project Horseshoe Farm Fellows and Rural Studio Farm volunteers

Greensboro AL

Jovita Lewis, Hale County Auburn Extension

Greensboro, AL

Nicole Dugat, Schoolyard Roots

Tuscaloosa, AL

Heather Knowles & Jonathan Gardner, Windy Van Hooten Teaching Garden

Gadsden, AL

Casey Hobbs, Red Bird Produce

Birmingham, AL

Emma Chapman Busby, Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN)

Tuscaloosa, AL

Ted Flato, Lake Flato Architects

San Antonio, TX

Johanna Gilligan, Brad Hart, Grow Dat Youth Farm 

Santa Fe, NM

Set table under the Great Hall

Get MEPped

Spring has sprung on the 18×18 House site! And with the grass, flowers, and leaves on the trees, new things are springing up inside the house too…

After installing their Pella windows at the start of this semester, the team kept moving with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing rough-ins, or MEP for short. That means pipes and wires!

First up were the drain, waste, and ventilation pipes. The PVC had to be cut and sections fitted together, leveled to slope downwards everywhere, and then taken apart to be glued BACK together. It took some trial and error, but Julie was on top of it.

After drain pipes were glued and checked for leaks, the team moved on to water supply lines. These had to be run to the outside of the house, where eventually the main line will be connected to the water meter.

Student with water line

Inside the house, flexible pipes snake through the walls to a few places. They eventually reach the locations of everything that will use water: the bathroom sink, toilet, shower, kitchen sink, washing laundry, outdoor hose, and refrigerator. Some of the spaces were tight, but once again, Julie saved the day.

Then we ALSO checked all of those pipes for leaks, but this time using air pressure.

Student reading air pressure

Meanwhile, we were also filling the walls with wires to run electricity throughout the house. Wires need to run to every single outlet, switch, and fixture, which can get complicated in a compact space like the 18×18 House.

But fear not! Meagan kept track of all the circuits, which all worked when tested! Phew.

And if that weren’t enough to keep everyone busy, the team has been finalizing some new flashing details for the exterior of the house. The 18×18 House will have about two-thirds of its cladding bumped out by a couple inches to add some dimension to the metal siding. Jake’s on that one!

Look at him. We’re all so proud.

Student with flashing mock-ups

And the FINAL thing the team has done to date… interior finishes! As the insulation and drywall stages approach, the “18s” are deciding on flooring, stair materials, railings, you name it.

The spring evenings in Hale County are setting the 18×18 House aglow every day. Keep an eye out for more changes as spring turns to summer, and as the team gets closer to the finish line!