Author: Natalie Butts-Ball

Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture Bestowed at Monticello

on April 13, 2023.

Medalists Andrew Freear and Jason Rezaian, third and fourth from the left, are flanked by, from left, Malo Hutson, dean of the School of Architecture; Ian Solomon, dean of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation; UVA President Jim Ryan; and Risa Goluboff, dean of the School of Law. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

Back in March, we shared that Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear and the Studio itself had been selected for the esteemed Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture. That honor was bestowed jointly by the University of Virginia (UVA) and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which grant no higher honor, during UVA’s annual Founder’s Day celebration.

Each year, the Jefferson Foundation and UVA confer this honor upon outstanding figures in three endeavors in which Jefferson “excelled and held in high regard”: architecture, law, and citizen leadership. Each Medal—one Medal per field per year, occasionally jointly bestowed—carries the weight of recognition for recipients as exemplars of their fields. President of the Foundation Leslie Greene Bowman described the Medals at the Founder’s Day morning talk as “recognizing individuals who personify the qualities at the core of Jefferson’s vision for America.” The Medal in Architecture has the longest history among these Medals, having first been bestowed upon Mies Van der Rohe in 1966. Since then, the recipient list in architecture has grown to include 63 outstanding innovators, bold thinkers, action takers.

Founder’s Day is held on April 13 each year, Mr. Jefferson’s birthday—this year was his 280th birthday. Like Pig Roast, Founder’s Daylike has its own traditional commemorative and celebratory events: not only talks by esteemed Medalists, but also a dawn wreath-laying ceremony conducted in silence by the purple-robed Society of Purple Shadows, a performance by the eight-member Old Line Fife and Drum Corps, a three-volley salute (traditional gunfire salute) by the Old Guard Color Guard, and the awarding of the Medals themselves. The events take place in the University of Virginia’s Academical Village, which with Monticello itself, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At the 10 a.m. event on the West Lawn, Foundation President Bowman quoted Thomas Jefferson as declaring in 1801, “‘The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our independence, the Fourth of July.’” She continued, “But every April, we respectfully ignore his wishes and gather here at Monticello on that birthday to honor Jefferson’s remarkable contributions.” Ms. Bowman and Mr. Tobias Dengel, Chair of the Foundation, continued, introducing renowned journalist and Citizen Leadership Medalist Jason Rezaian for the morning talk. As Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, Mr. Rezaian was imprisoned for 544 days on false charges of espionage. Since his 2016 release, he has “used his platform to fight for the freedom and the liberty of others.” He closed by telling attendees, “Stay engaged. Keep reading. Keep our republic alive and healthy.” It is no wonder that Andrew and Mr. Rezaian became fast friends and that Rural Studio can expect a visit from Jason Rezaian in the future.

Both Andrew Freear and Jason Rezaian received their Medals at noon at the Rotunda in a ceremony that UVA President Jim Ryan called “the highlight of the day.” Medalists Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju were honored but could not attend in person because they were tending to their marriage equality legal case in India, continuing the critical justice-oriented work that promted their selection for the Medal in Law.

Andrew delivered the afternoon public talk in Old Cabell Hall, opposite the Rotunda. After a warm introduction by Dean Malo Hutson of UVA’s School of Architecture, Andrew offered his remarks, starting with how deeply honored Rural Studio is to have been selected. He noted that this year’s medal acknowledges how place-situated, people-centered work is critical and how housing cannot be addressed in isolation from other issues and must be tackled by iteratively designing. He further commented that the 2023 Medal award “recognizes that ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ the right to which Jefferson enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, is a harder pursuit for some, but one that can be eased if we work together and reinvest in the rural.” And as anyone who knows Andrew would expect, he encouraged attendees to recognize the interconnectedness of rural challenges and to support activities and research that make sustainable, equitable, dignified rural living possible.

Andrew Freear and Rural Studio Receive Esteemed Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture

The University of Virginia (UVA) and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation jointly bestow the esteemed Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal annually in three fields in which Jefferson “excelled and held in high regard”—one medal each in architecture, law, and citizen leadership—and in some years, in global innovation. This year, Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear and the Studio itself have been selected for the honor in architecture. Other 2023 Medal recipients include Jason Rezaian for the Medal in Citizen Leadership and Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju for the Medal in Law.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal is the highest external honor granted by the University of Virginia, which does not grant honorary degrees, and celebrates the recipients as exemplars in their endeavors. Architecture is the original Medal category and Mies Van der Rohe was the first recipient in 1966. Other past recipients in architecture include Alvar Aalto (1967), Robert Venturi (1983), and more recently Sir David Adjaye OBE (2018) and Kenneth Frampton (2022).

Lions Park Playscape

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is an “independent, nonprofit organization that owns and operates his home, Monticello.” As a museum and historic site, Monticello keeps alive the accomplishments of Jefferson, the complex man who penned the Declaration of Independence, served as the third President of the United States, and founded the University of Virginia in 1819–but who was also a slave owner. Today, the Foundation works to recognize the valuable lessons of history: that we must wrestle with them, rather than ignore them, and that we must continue to work for a just future. Past Medal recipient Wendy Kopp (Teach for America, Teach for All) used the honor to publicly address the difficult “paradox” Jefferson presents as both an enslaver and an architect of our government and its ideals, and Senator John Lewis, 2015 recipient of the Citizen Leadership Medal, went on to point out that we have not yet arrived at that future when he encouraged award ceremony attendees to “keep your eyes on the prize.” Following Senator Lewis’ instruction to us all, we are compelled to use this recognition to highlight the persistent housing inequities still found in rural America, inequities that have arisen from the ongoing legacy of human enslavement.

Andrew Freear and Rural Studio will receive the 2023 Medal in Architecture at the annual Founder’s Day celebration, a joint UVA and Foundation event held on April 13, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Professor Freear captured the sentiment of all of Rural Studio when he learned of the honor: “It’s quite extraordinary that a modest undergraduate program in West Alabama can be mentioned alongside giants in our field such as Jane Jacobs, Glenn Murcutt, Billie Tsien, Tod Williams, and Frances Kéré. We are deeply humbled to have been selected for this distinction not just for the honor, but for the light that it shines on rural America and society’s role in ensuring equitable, dignified communities.” We couldn’t have said it better.

Look for a post on the ceremony in April.

For more information:

University of Virginia Press Release

UVA School of Architecture Press Release

Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal

Newbern Firehouse

Photos by Timothy Hursley

2022 Soup Roast

Rural Studio’s Fall semester culminates in the annual Soup Roast, which is typically attended by longtime consultants Jersey Devil’s design/build legend Jim Adamson, and the Seattle crew: Jake LaBarre from Miller Hull and J.A.S. Design Build principals Kim Clements and Joe Schneider. This year, we also were joined by Mike Freeman and Nicole Abercrombie (both from J.A.S.), as well as Auburn faculty and Rural Studio alumnus Will McGarity and our Front Porch Initiative team, Rusty Smith, Mackenzie Stagg, Betsy Farrell Garcia. Together they critiqued the work of our 5th-year students with good humor and a fun spirit, despite the unpredictable West Alabama weather. This time was also used to celebrate the progress made by Fall semester 3rd-years on their project, Rosie’s Home, as well as their History and Woodshop class projects. We capped off Soup Roast Review (Day One) with a hot bowl of soup, bonfires, and Hale County tea.

A new tradition, Soup Roast Day Two, gave us a chance to workshop and charrette ideas from the previous day’s reviews with our 5th-year teams and visitors. Afterwards, Jake, Jim, and Mike each inspired students with brief lectures drawn from their own work. And finally, we were treated to a very special dinner created by Kim Clements and another friend from Seattle, Courtney Aguirre, using lots of Rural Studio Farm produce.

Cheers to another semester designing and building in West Alabama. We couldn’t do it without all of our supporters. Thank you!

Rural Studio Receives 2022 National Design Award in NYC

We are still processing the news of being a recipient of one of the 2022 National Design Awards. Rural Studio Director Andrew Freear and Associate Director Rusty Smith attended the gala along with Acting Dean Karen Rogers from the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) and Justin Miller, Head of the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (APLA). They walked the red carpet, and when the ceremony turned to awardees, Andrew delivered the remarks for Rural Studio. The central message he delivered was that the award recognizes that people and place really do matter, and that everyone, wherever they live and no matter their circumstance, should have the right to beautiful, dignified, and equitable design.

2022 National Design Award Recipients: (L-R) Che-Wei Wang, Nader Tehrani, Taylor Levy, Emily Adams Bode, Chelina Odbert, (Cooper Hewitt Director) Maria Nicanor, Giorgia Lupi, David Hertz, Andrew Freear, and Willy Chavarria

Our folks were in excellent company across the board. Nader Tehrani represented another intersection of the architectural arm of design and a focus on equity, and Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), from the allied field of landscape architecture, was selected for work in places where socioeconomic inequity is extreme, environmental risks are high, and public investment is historically low. David Hertz won for his explicit work in climate action: his design of WEDEW, a self-contained, transportable, and sustainable water and energy generator that converts biomass into essential human resources. And Felecia Davis’s design is in computational textiles, or textiles that respond to their environment via programming, embedded sensors, and electronics, or by using the changeable properties of materials to communicate information to people. She applies this research and design in large part to architecture, and her work addresses social, cultural, and political constructions. All of these winners have a just, equitable, healthful future underpinning their efforts.

Two of our colleagues come out of the realm of fashion design. Cooper Hewitt aptly describes Willy Chavarria’s work as blending “the emotion of art and modern politics into a reactionary story of the human will,” with his fashions making anti-hate statements. Emily Adams Bode was selected as this year’s emerging designer, with her menswear brand and her designs for New York Fashion Week: Men’s not only incorporating historical techniques and female-centric traditions like appliqué but also focusing on sustainability through repair of articles of clothing.

Other recipients won for design that advances the human experience in other ways. The jury selected CW&T, the design duo of Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy, to recognize their insightful and product design that concentrates on improving everyday experiences. Their range of design impressively extends from interactive software to human-scaled tools. And Giorgia Lupi’s award recognizes her contributions to data visualization, with designs engaging data-driven narratives across print, digital, and environmental media that create new insight and appreciation of people, ideas, and organizations.

We can’t even come close to doing justice to the design work all of these colleagues are doing. Go to Cooper Hewitt’s “Meet the 2022 Winners” page to learn more about each of them. It’ll be well worth your time.

Rural Studio carefully transported to Newbern the trophy created by The Corning Museum of Glass, a trophy that in itself is a work of art. We are deeply humbled and honored to be recognized by the award’s Jury. The evening festivities from Wednesday night are over, but we will long be celebrating—as soon as the reality sinks in. And we’ll continue to champion the message of the rural, of people and place. It is being heard.

Images: 1, 4, 5, 8, 13 by Nikola Bradonjic, courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Images: 3, 7, 10, 11, 12 by Liz Ligon, courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Sweat and Sweat Equity in Four Marianna Homes

Partners celebrate the ribbon cutting and dedication of four new high-performance homes in Marianna, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity.

On a hot, sunny day exactly 511 days after breaking ground on the first of four homes in the Chipola Street Development, we gathered on July 21 to celebrate the dedication of the four completed homes. These homes represent a collaborative partnership between Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), who developed the homes and managed construction; Chipola College Building Construction Technology (CCBCT), whose students received clock-hour credit while working to construct the homes; and Auburn Rural Studio, who provided the designs and technical assistance to build these high-performance homes. This collaborative also represents a nexus of needs to which organizations are working to respond: first, expanding equitable access to housing, second, providing high-performance homes that continue to benefit homeowners over the lifespan of the home, and third, growing a local workforce trained in building these high-performance homes. In addition to this tripartite collaborative, Regions Bank and Fannie Mae worked with CAHFH to ensure home affordability while simultaneously increasing CAHFH’s capacity to deliver more homes in their local communities.

Equitable Housing Access

The site for the four homes was a parcel that CAHFH had held in their portfolio for quite some time, as the narrow, sloping lot had proved difficult to develop. The benefit of the parcel, however, was its centrality to resources, including proximity to the town’s civic complex (including post office and courthouse) as well as to grocery stores. And, though the size of each individual parcel did not meet the minimum requirements of the zoning ordinance, CAHFH’s good relationship with the city allowed for them to both obtain a variance and demonstrate a method for infilling these small, in-town parcels.

On the financial side, CAHFH, Regions, and Fannie Mae worked together to pilot a process by which the sweat equity built into the houses is valued as a contribution to the downpayment. The affordability of the house is preserved via a deed restriction developed by Grounded Solutions Network and specifically designed to work with shared equity programs.

High-Performance Homes

All four homes were designed, constructed, and certified to meet ENGERGY STAR, FGBC Green Home, and FORTIFIED Home for Hurricane Gold standards! The house completed first, Buster’s House, received a final HERS score of 38; it is predicted that the house will save $697/year over a comparable home built to-code. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, that equates to a whopping $20,910 in savings. In addition to their energy efficiency, the homes are also designed to resist damage from high winds and rain. Since Florida already has robust building codes around resilience, CAHFH was already very familiar with the concept of providing a continuous load path – meaning that the roof is tied down to the walls and the walls are tied down to the foundation, allowing the home to resist strong wind forces. In addition to the continuous load path, the homes feature impact-resistant windows and extra layers of water protection on the roof. FORTIFIED certification can potentially lead to lower insurance premiums for the homeowner, providing monthly savings in addition to increased peace of mind. This project gave us our first opportunity to look into Florida Green Building Coalition’s Green Home standard. This standard is a points-based program (similar to LEED) and seeks to address Florida-specific climactic conditions for improved efficiency, health, and resilience performance. These high-performance homes aim to provide the homeowners with safe, comfortable, and durable homes that will continue to be an asset for many years to come.

Local Workforce

Sometimes opportunities emerge out of challenges. Construction on the homes began while there will pandemic-related challenges were limiting the number of CAHFH’s volunteers – a crucial component of the Habitat social and affordability models. Around the same time, Chipola College launched a Building Construction Technology program as part of their mission of enhancing CTE (career and technical education) opportunities across the state of Florida. Timing proved advantageous for both CAHFH and Chipola College – they initiated a partnership whereby CCBCT students received clock-hour credit toward construction certifications while building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Furthermore, these students received practical experience on the construction of high-performance homes, better able to respond to climactic challenges.

Needless to say, the Front Porch Initiative team learned a ton from this project! We’re grateful to have such wonderful collaborators in the Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity team (Carmen, Isaiah, Pete, Cynthia, Jennie Anne, and Tamara) and the Chipola College Building Construction Technology team (Darwin, Scott, and the CCBCT students). Here’s to the first four of what we hope are many homes to come!

The homes in the Chipola Street development represent four different product line homes, from left to right: Buster, Dave, Joanne, and Sylvia.

Press coverage of the event:

WJHG News Channel 7: “Habitat for Humanity finished four new homes in Marianna” by Ramsey Romero | July 21, 2022

Dothan Eagle: “Ribbon cut to signal finish of Habitat for Humanity tiny homes in Marianna” by Deborah Buckhalter | July 22, 2022