Author: Natalie Butts-Ball

Workshop 1: Kiel Moe

Our great friend Kiel Moe kicked off this year’s fall workshop series, bringing his expertise to our 5th-year students as they begin to wrestle with the challenges of using mass timber to create a bath house. That’s right: using wood to create a bath house in humid subtropical Hale County, AL, where the summer temperatures soar, and the relative humidity is high year-round!

We are pleased to be able to call him our own now: after collaborating with us from McGill University on our mass timber and thermal mass buoyancy ventilation projects, he has joined Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) as a Professor of Practice specializing in Mass Timber. In particular, his workshop addressed how we might reconsider the act and celebration of bathing, and the role of timber in that environment, and understand the transmission of heat in such a building and the long-term care of a building through its detailing. Like other workshops, students divided into charette teams to share the newly acquired knowledge among each other and thereby get to know one another better.

Tom Chung, another celebrated new Auburn CADC Professor of Practice in Mass Timber, contributed to the workshop, along with teaching partner Rural Studio alumnus Will McGarity of Stick Architecture LLC in Birmingham. Students in Tom Chung’s Studio III on Auburn’s main campus (also known as the Mass Timber design studio) presented their timber precedent studies under the shelter of the Great Hall at the Morrisette House.

This workshop was just the beginning for our 5th-year students. This Fall, they will participate in three weeks of workshops led by our consultants with expertise in subjects like landscape, structural engineering, building codes and ordnances, as well as designers, builders and makers. This process is directed toward students gaining familiarity with the year’s projects, with consultants exploring important questions related to their field. The workshop process culminates with students choosing the project and designing the team they will be working both on and with for the rest of their time in the program.

Keep your eyes open for a recap of the upcoming workshop with Emily Knox and David Hill from Auburn’s Landscape Architecture Program.

Cheers to the Moundville Pavilion students!

We celebrated the current Moundville Archaeological Park Community Pavilion team at a special dinner with Rural Studio students, staff, and faculty. A beautiful meal was made by Sarah Cole of Abadir’s, with produce from our Rural Studio Farm.

The Moundville Archeological Park Community Pavilion project has been in the Studio for the last five years and was explored by two 5th-year teams. Both teams brought intellectual curiosity, hard work, and deep respect for the cultural treasure that is Moundville, and both teams had to manage circumstances beyond their control. The first team, graduates from 2019, had to halt construction due to the constraints of the COVID pandemic. The second team, who inherited the partially built project, recently learned the project was canceled.

On Friday evening we feted these remarkable students: Brenton Smith, Caitlyn Biffle, Jackie Rosborough, and Collin Brown. We toasted the care, insight, grit, and maturity of the team through the arc of the project. While the first team gave them an excellent start, the second team was able to approach it with fresh eyes. They critiqued and built upon previous decisions, taking time to understand the structure without fear of revising elements that could be improved. They preserved the project intentions as a place for teaching and holding events, and as a gathering space for Moundville Archaeological Park, its campers, and other visitors. Their goal was to have the Pavilion be modest and quiet, preserving the character of place, but also delightful, reflecting and disappearing into the landscape with the ceiling as a new sky. Above all, they too served the client with great love and respect for the place, recognizing its incredible significance, beauty, and meaning.

We were delighted to have Emily Lopez, of the first team, join the festivities. The many miles between Newbern and California (for Lauren Ballard) and Harvard University (for Katie Cantine and Sarah Page) kept the rest of the team from joining us in person, yet they sent messages of support.

We are immensely proud of our students’ thoughtful and careful designs, their collaboration, their intellectual curiosity, and more than anything their poise: the first team’s composure in handling the pandemic pause and the second team’s respect and maturity in handling the close of the project. These graduates will not have beautiful Tim Hursley photographs to complete their portfolios, but they will always carry the skills, insight, and respect that they cultivated over their time with Rural Studio and the Moundville Archaeological Park Community Pavilion.

Bravo, teams! Thank you for honoring us with your abilities and grace!

Warm Welcome to the Bayou

On June 23, the Front Porch Initiative joined New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) in launching a replacement housing program for a hurricane-affected community in Louisiana. Bringing disaster recovery and rebuilding to a community hit hard by Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021, New Orleans Area Habitat announced their commitment to the town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, with a press event sharing the vision for rebuilding and pledging a $4.5M investment to fund the recovery effort.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity hosted an event launching a Hurricane Ida recovery event for interested residents of Jean Lafitte and were joined by representatives from the city and community.

At the press event, Rusty Smith joined Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, Jr., Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, State Representative Tim Kerner, Sr., and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Marguerite Oestreicher in announcing the rebuilding effort. Rusty noted how energy efficiency, durability, and resilience contribute to the long-term affordability of the houses being proposed by reducing monthly utility bills and maintenance and repair expenses; how design features can contribute to positive health outcomes of the residents; and how the houses will contribute to strengthening the community fabric of Jean Lafitte.

Rural Studio’s Rusty Smith described new affordable, energy efficient homes proposed for Jean Lafitte and the benefits they will offer to residents.

According to NOAHH, more than 90% of homes in the area were damaged by Ida. Over the next two years, they aim to construct between 40 and 60 homes for property owners whose homes were destroyed by the hurricane. Built on homeowners’ existing property, Rural Studio’s energy efficient and resilient housing prototypes will be adapted to respond appropriately to the local climate and site needs. The first house will be based on Sylvia’s House, a two-bedroom model that has been adapted to include a second bathroom. To exceed base flood elevation, piles will lift the structure 10 feet above grade, creating usable space below the home.

Approximately 120 residents attended the event at the Lafitte Community Center. After the information session, residents were able to meet with NOAHH to begin the application process. The affiliate aims to limit homeowner mortgage payments to approximately $500, and fundraising is underway to establish a satellite operations base and construction warehouse in the area and to offset construction costs. Pile driving on the first replacement home began on July 27, and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity plans to mark the anniversary of Hurricanes Ida and Katrina on August 29, 2022, with a community event. 

Press coverage of the event: “Habitat for Humanity plans 40 homes for Ida-weary Lafitte residents: ‘This means hope’” by Blake Paterson | June 24, 2022 | link “Home building group donates $4.5 million to build homes damaged after Hurricane Ida” by Rob Masson | June 23, 2022 | link

Designing for High Winds in Louisiana

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) graciously hosted the Front Porch team on a visit to advance our latest partnership, a replacement house as part of Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in fishing communities south of New Orleans, LA. Our response to this project addresses an intersection of climate hazards; the house will be designed for both hurricane-force winds and flooding.

Partners from Rural Studio and NOH4H at potential house ite
(L-R) Rusty Smith, AURS; Marguerite Oestreicher, NOAHH; Tim Kerner, Jr, Mayor; Vivian Kain, NOAHH; Tim Carpenter, Fannie Mae; Bradley Holland, NOAHH; Tim O’Rourke, NOAHH; Betsy Farrell Garcia, AURS; Mackenzie Stagg, AURS

Our first day began with a field trip of precedent projects, including a recently completed Habitat home in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood of New Orleans. The construction team explained the aspects of the home that are new to this affiliate: a vaulted ceiling in the main living space, a second bathroom (new to their three-bedroom plan), dedicated fresh air ventilation, storage for hurricane shutters, and a second porch off the kitchen at the rear of the house. We studied the foundation of treated wood piles supporting the raised wood floor system, as this system will be employed on the proposed project.  

Investigating the pile foundation on a precedent home recently completed by NOAHH

Because the house will need to be elevated above the FEMA Base Flood Elevation for flood mitigation, we met with the structural engineer, Steve Cali, to consider strategies for supporting the house 14 feet above grade. Julie Shiyou-Woodward of Smart Home America joined the discussion to clarify structural requirements of the FORTIFIED standard and to share the benefits of certification on insurance premiums. As the last blog post referenced, increasing resilience and durability of the home through minimal up-front investments can reduce a homeowner’s insurance premiums, contributing to the long-term affordability of the home and financial stability for the homeowner. In particular, Louisiana insurance carriers offer discounts for homes certified to the FORTIFIED standard. Fannie Mae’s Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team also met with NOAHH and the Front Porch team to share potential financing opportunities for this and future projects.

View over the bayou near a potential site

The following day, the group traveled south of New Orleans to visit a few potential project sites located in fishing communities within Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes who working to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. As the source of 30% of Louisiana’s seafood, these communities have been described as a “working coast,” critical to the region’s economic recovery. These site visits illuminated the challenges of recovery, particularly in the face of steep flood insurance premium increases and material shortages due to supply chain issues; but community members expressed eager optimism and a fierce will to rebuild. NOAHH is working closely with the municipalities to coordinate efforts and mobilize construction crews while the Front Porch team finalizes construction documents. NOAHH aims to have the first house completed by August 29, 2022, the anniversary of hurricanes Ida and Katrina.

In Memory of Andrea Dean

Headshot of Andrea Dean

We are late getting this out because it has been tough to write and to find the appropriate words. Perhaps there are none.

On September 20, 2021, we lost our great friend and supporter Andrea Oppenheimer Dean. It’s fair to say that Andrea, with architectural photographer Timothy Hursley, brought Rural Studio and Hale County to the world. She gave Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth the platform to start to challenge academia and the profession, initially with a feature in Architectural Record and then later with the three Rural Studio books.

I had the privilege of providing information for the first two books and then collaborating with Andrea and Tim on the third, Rural Studio at Twenty. To work with Andrea was a delight: She was professional, thoughtful, rigorous, and thorough—all laced with a gentle, slightly naughty sense of humor. She carefully crafted the prose in the book, happy to let the words play a supportive narrative to Hursley’s beautiful images, to let the photographs tell the story. As an astute editor, she skillfully shaped the bullet points I gave her into something legible and then insisted the writing use my voice. We thought it hilarious that this highly articulate, feisty, sharp, big-in-heart but small-in-stature lady should want to impersonate this lanky, gruff, occasionally foul-mouthed Yorkshire lump. As you can imagine, she cleaned up my words up a lot!

Andrea never sought the limelight, though she certainly was worthy of it. Her humility was counterbalanced by strength and fierceness. She was a well of kindness, understanding, and generosity.

It was one of life’s joys and honors to work with Andrea and spend time with her. The world of architecture and Rural Studio have lost a passionate, consistent supporter and advocate.

I have lost a beautiful friend whom I loved dearly.

— Andrew Freear

Read more about Andrea Dean’s life here from her obituary.