Author: Natalie Butts-Ball

Building Anew: A Rehabilitation and Rebuilding Initiative in Rural North Carolina

Marshall, North Carolina

Supporting its mission to increase high performance rural housing, Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative has partnered with the Community Housing Coalition of Madison County (CHCMC) in North Carolina. In 2022, the CHCMC secured funding to replace four substandard houses in their service area. The CHCMC has historically focused on the repair and rehabilitation of existing homes in their service area but recognized the opportunity to invest funding more sustainably through replacement housing. For the first of these projects, CHCMC chose to use a Rural Studio design, which will accommodate the challenging housing site. The site has both a restricted buildable area and a significant grade change.

Replacement home on the left and existing home on the right (red roof)

The Sylvia’s House prototype was well suited for the narrow and steeply sloped rural site where an existing home—which remained in place during construction—and septic lines limited the buildable area. The new home overlooks a stream across the road and nestles into a hillside while maintaining driveway access to the existing home. The selection of finishes favored durable and low-maintenance materials. Access and space planning considered the future mobility needs of the client: in addition to the ramp at the front porch, grading at the rear porch will allow a zero-step entry. Inside a roll-in shower will accommodate aging-in-place. Where possible, the Rural Studio Front Porch Initiative team incorporated equipment and appliances from the client’s existing home to reduce construction costs.

Construction began in mid-February of 2023 with CHCMC serving as the general contractor with some subcontractor labor. On August 2, 2023, CHCMC had an open house for all the partners involved to see the home as it nears completion. This first ground-up build will serve as a demonstration home for the organization to expand and provide homes that are affordable, high-performing, and efficiently designed to accommodate the needs of their clients.

Performance

In addition to ENERGY STAR 3.1 (a national energy performance standard program), the Front Porch Initiative team elected to pursue a North Carolina state standard: Green Built Homes. This point-based standard resembles LEED for Homes, but with less intensive documentation requirements. The organization’s experience in weatherization has proved valuable in design discussions of air tightness and insulation, and this new construction project has served as a learning opportunity for the construction team, informing their understanding of beyond-code construction. We want to give a special shout out to Hunter Dendy of Eco-Sense in Asheville, NC. Hunter graciously donated his consulting services AND the cost of HERS and ENERGY STAR certifications for the new home.

Long-term Affordability

As the first new construction project for an organization accustomed to housing repair work, this project has provided valuable lessons for CHCMC. Project development has highlighted the need for establishing clear expectations and communication with the client and for understanding the limitations of funding sources. For example, CHCMC learned that HUD funding precludes a deed restriction providing right of first refusal for the organization; furthermore, they recognize that some clients prefer to maintain the option of transferring a home to a relative or heir at default, potentially limiting the number of interested clients.

We are continuing our collaboration with CHCMC on future projects, helping to increase their capacity to deliver replacement homes in the community. 

Press Articles:

Asheville Citizen Times: “Madison housing organization breaks ground on replacement home program: ‘There’s hope again’” by Johnny Casey

Stop, Sit, and Stair

Summer ended in an absolute blaze. And so did the finishing touches on Patriece’s Home! Before we get sad and sappy, here’s how the old sweaty 5th-year “leftovers” team completed construction of the project!

The team designed a configuration of off-the-shelf cabinets to fit into the kitchen space of the home as an L-shaped kitchen. With the help and approval of the new homeowner, Patriece, they selected a shade of green to paint the cabinets as well. After the paint and a protective coating was applied, the team used their immaculate intuition (but mostly a laser level) to perfectly align the cabinets and fasten them into a wall. 

Next, the butcher block countertop sat perfectly atop those even cabinets. Voila! A kitchen! 

Well actually, there’s a little more to it than that. The students installed LED strips along the top and bottom of the upper cabinets to light the kitchen workspace and help illuminate the room. The team also designed the lighting in the kitchen spaces—with the help of consultant Thomas Paterson of course—by building “valance,” or cover, for the lighting above the sink. This was the light from the unshaded bulbs that can be cast down onto the workspace and reflected off the ceiling. 

On to the bathrooms! The team want to give a giant “Thank you!” to Mark Smith and Lewis-Smith Supply for donating all the home’s faucets, toilets, and showers. The toilets went in quicker and easier than the team anticipated. Much like the kitchen cabinets, the students installed the bathroom vanities. Then, it was finally time to install the home’s three sinks. The moment of truth came when the team turned on the water supply to the house. It was nerve-racking but successful. No leaks! The veins of the house are full, and the fixtures look nice and elegant in place.

Now, the moment we know you all have been waiting so eagerly for: the hatches. You know, the hatches are ducted to the whirl birds on the roof to drain hot air out of the upstairs in the summer and to shut the house tight to keep warm in the winter. Okay, well, even if you don’t remember, here they are! There are all part of the strategy to subtly, passively cool Patriece’s Home. 

Now for a little bit of interior glamour! The team decided to line the interior of the stair walls with tongue and groove cypress, just like the wood on the porches. Then, they used 1x boards of the same cypress for the treads and risers of the stairs. Now, the entire stair well space is a warm, woody wonderland. And it glows! The team routed out the underside of the stair handrail for LED strips, so that light is cast onto the steps without being obstructed by the person walking. It turns the stairwell into an orangey, glowy nightlight for the rest of the house as well. 

The nook is another special detail at the stair landing. Cypress is used to frame the seat and can be removed for a small, chest-like storage space. Then, on the back wall of the nook, the team color matched the paint of the cabinets to some fabric and used that fabric to make a cushioned wall! Now, when someone sits in the nook seat and chats with someone else in the kitchen, they can rest their back on a soft surface. 

You think those stairs are fancy for a Rural Studio house? Well, the team has another trick up their sleeve! The pantry storage space under the stairs is now enclosed in doors! The team bought three hollow core doors, cut them to the right size and installed them as a single swinging door and one bifold door.

To match the under-stair doors, the team did the same thing and created attic doors that close off the storage space between the trusses of the attics and the upstairs bedrooms.

Finally, on to the finished floor!! The team originally planned to leave the concrete slab as the finished floor but changed their mind, placing a laminate flooring (LVT) through the whole house for a more comfortable, even finish. Many thanks to Interface for the generous donation! The team looked at samples and chose a color that is similar to the original concrete so it agreed with their interior finish colors and the cypress on the walls. Once the team placed an underlayment felt, they were off! They floored the whole house in about three days! Lastly, the baseboards were nailed around the base of the drywall, and the largest tasks of the home were over.

With their days in Hale County dwindling down to a few, the team ran through their punch list. The paint was touched up, towel and toilet rods installed, showers and windows cleaned. On the outside, grass seed was spread and watered, trash and the burn barrel were carted away, the porch was pressure washed, and a concrete paver walkway between the parking and porch was set into the ground. 

With the house gleaming, the team took their final photos, and then let the professional in to do his thing. Thank you, Timothy Hursley, for ensuring the completed Patriece’s Home will be remembered forever. 

The Patriece’s Home team loves their other Rural Studio cohort’s teams very much, so they waited until August 26th to celebrate and open their project at the same time as the C.H.O.I.C.E. House! 

The big day started on the Patriece’s Home front porch. Everyone was sweating buckets in their nice attire and the 104-degree heat, but there was so much for the team to be grateful for, the team didn’t care. 

Lauren has just moved herself and her bestie cat, June, to Huntsville, AL, to start working at Fuqua and Partners Architects. What a Queen! 

Daniel has a fancy new ring to wear to go with his lovely new WIFE! They have both moved to Birmingham, AL, where he will be working for Seay Seay & Litchfield Architects (and knowing him, probably some woodworking on the side). 

Laurel was accepted for the Ghost Residency with McKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. She’ll get to intern for the firm, working part-time on a farm, and hopefully won’t freeze to death! 

Adam is going to keep on designing and building! Rural Studio consultant, Kiel Moe, has convinced him to move to Chicago, IL, where he will help complete a house project. Finally, he’s gotten a house to work on that’s rid of the rest of the team (kidding)! 

This project was not just built by these four but so many others who gave them much needed help and guidance. The team is so thankful for the support of their donors, consultants, and Rural Studio faculty and staff. They are also so grateful for their families who kept them sane and student colleagues who made Hale County home for a time. 

Finally, Patriece and her children were the best possible clients the team could have received, and it was such an honor to build a house for them to own and live in.

Well, goodbye for now. See ya at Christmastime at the Cheesecake Factory! 

Xoxo,

The Patriece’s Home Team 

Rural Studio Receives Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists at the White House

Andrew Freear accepts the 2023 Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists at the White House.

On September 12, the Japan Art Association (JAA) announced its selection of Rural Studio as a 2023 recipient of the Grant for Young Artists. Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear traveled to the White House to receive the Grant on behalf of the Studio.

In 1988, on its 100th anniversary, the JAA established the Praemium Imperiale, a global arts prize to honor Prince Takamatsu and annually given to artists in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theatre/film. In 1997, the Praemium Imperiale expanded to include an annual Grant for Young Artists, most often given to organizations rather than individuals. The nominating team identifies those who “actively contribute to the development of young artistic talent.” Each year an international advisor to the JAA selects the Grant’s recipient(s) from among the worthy nominees. This year, Hillary Rodham Clinton served as the international advisor and selected Rural Studio and the Harlem School of the Arts for the Grant. Rural Studio is the first recipient in architecture in the Grant’s 27-year history.

We couldn’t be more delighted! It’s heartening to see architecture education recognized and supported. It’s especially heartening to see the rural take a spotlight. As Director Freear notes, “There’s a perception that design is just part of the culture of cities or urban places. To bridge this misconception, it’s important to bring young folks into an isolated rural place, like Newbern, to encounter the many provocative design challenges and opportunities.”

The ceremony was the icing on the cake. It began with a brief video montage featuring each of the honorees. First, the video introduced the Laureates: painter Vija Clemins, sculptor Olafur Eliasson, architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, musician Wynton Marsalis, and theater director and artist Robert Wilson. Then, it introduced the recipients of the Grant for Young Artists, the Harlem School of the Arts and Rural Studio.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden welcomes 34th Annual Praemium Imperiale laureates, Grant for Young Artist recipients and attendees to the White House on Tuesday, September 12, 2023.

The ceremony was held in the East Room at the White House. After the Laureates proceeded to the podium and were seated, Dr. Biden gave a rousing opening. She poetically remarked,

The artists we honor today invite us to join a conversation with the world, to step beyond the limits of our imagination. It’s a conversation that speaks across borders, languages, and centuries; as we tilt our heads to see just one more angle, bend our ear to take in just one more note, our hearts and hopes reach toward each other.

Her apt description of the “conversation” captures the conversations we have not only within our discipline but with those for whom we build and those who make architecture possible.

Honorary Advisor Mr. David Rockerfeller, Jr., gave a concise history of the Awards and noted that the Praemium Imperiale is “one of the world’s most important arts awards,” with “its mission to recognize the vital role of artists in our international discourse.” The Laureate distinction has often been called the Nobel Prize of the Arts. And the Grant for Young Artists facilitates nurturing the next generation of artists. Mr. Rockerfeller noted that artists’ “contribution to peace and understanding has never surely been more important.” Although Prince Hitachi could not join the ceremony because of health reasons, Chairman of the JAA Mr. Hisashi Hieda passed along his respect and his “hope that these Awards will stand as a reminder of how the arts contribute to” worldwide “peace and harmony.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th Secretary of State & International Advisor to the Praemium Imperiale, introduces each Laureate.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments were dotted with gentle humor. She, too, lauded the importance of the Awards, and she called out to past recipients who were in the audience, including none other than two of our good friends, both Billie Tsien and Tod Williams! We’re so glad they could be present. Former Secretary of State Clinton also introduced each Laureate, highlighting their work, then invited Mr. Hieda back to the podium to present the Grant diplomas and call attention to the work of Rural Studio and the Harlem School of the Arts in turn. As Andrew stood on the podium, she described Rural Studio’s “ambition . . . to help students understand social responsibility in architecture through direct involvement in construction work as well as design.”

Hisashi Hieda, Chairman of the Japan Art Association, and Hillary Rodham Clinton present the Grant diploma to Rural Studio Director Andrew Freear.
2023 Praemium Imperiale Laureate Wynton Marsalis

After the live-streamed ceremony ended, in-person attendees were treated to a fantastic live performance by the Harlem School of the Arts All-Stars, accompanied by 2023 Laureate Wynton Marsalis.

Rural Studio is honored and humbled to stand among such talent in such a historic setting.

Final thoughts from Dr. Biden:

But art stops us in our tracks.

It feeds our spirit when we’re hungry for something more. It shows the contours of our sorrows and our joys so that we know that we’re not alone. It brings us back to the beauty and humanity of every moment.

Art matters. And that is why we’re here today.

All photos courtesy of Japan Art Association

Make Good C.H.O.I.C.E.S.!

Surprise! The C.H.O.I.C.E House is complete! For the past couple of months, we’ve had our heads down and our eyes on the prize, but the team couldn’t leave Hale County without one last update. Keep reading to see how we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we’re going!

high view of site

Picking up where our last update left off: shortly after drywall, both our team and Patriece’s Home team set an opening date, August 26th! That meant one final Hale County summer, culminating in a packed porch party to celebrate two teams, two projects, and two years of work. So, we certainly had to get to it on-site.

In July, we focused our efforts on wrapping up our exterior and landscaping strategy. In keeping with the units’ ADA compliance, we developed an accessible route to both the units and washer dryer volume using a poured sidewalk and driveway. A big “Thank you!” to our neighbor and local concrete finisher, Charles Woods, for his crew’s help on these last two pours. Also outside, we planted three trees—a trio of black gums that we hope will provide color, delight, and most importantly, shade, in the years to come. Finishing out the courtyard space, we reused the old sidewalk pieces to create a boundary between the current courtyard and the “mowable meadow,” the portion of the site designated for strategic expansion as C.H.O.I.C.E. and their housing programs grow.

As August arrived, we moved back inside to start all of our finishes: flooring, tiling, shelving, trim, you name it! We also welcomed a bonus member to the team. Davis’ fiancé, Elisia, joined us from Oregon for the final six weeks of the project. To keep the momentum going, the team split up to focus on different finishes. AC claimed the built-in shelving and appliance nooks, Davis took on installing the floor tile and LVT with Elisia, and Hailey learned how to tile two showers in a matter of days! 

The final work week very serendipitously aligned with the time-honored tradition of “Neckdown.” In our last full week on site, we were fortunate to have over a dozen of the new students hard at work. With the countdown to our opening on, the new crew helped us touch up paint, tidy up the units, and set up for one heck of an opening on Saturday. If that wasn’t enough of a group push to the finish, we even had some very special helpers fly all the way from Vancouver, Canada and Kansas City, Missouri. Thanks Jackie and Caitlyn!

We then wrapped up the week (and two years!) of hard work with a joint project opening. Nearly 200 hundred friends, family, and community members showed up and braved 100+ degree temperatures to celebrate with us, packing the front porch to enjoy Newbern Mercantile BBQ and an excellent veggie spread from Abadir’s. It meant the world to us to see those we hold nearest and dearest all in one place to watch us cut the ribbon on a project that we know Emefa and all of C.H.O.I.C.E. will use well as they continue serving their clients and community. Even better, we got to open right alongside our friends on Patriece’s Home team!

people on porch

So, what’s next? In the coming days, the team will pack up and move on to our next chapters. Hailey is taking her talents to Spain, where she’s working as a Language and Cultural Assistant at a school in Madrid. Raymond is sticking around Hale County for a while to work with the Studio. As for Davis, he’s Portland bound, though you might soon hear wedding bells for him and Elisia on a vineyard in Virginia. And AC? For now, she’s heading West!  

Thank you again to everyone that joined us on this journey the past two years. Words cannot express how grateful we are to this place and every single person that’s ever been a part of it. Until we see you all again, make good C.H.O.I.C.E.S.

-AC, Hailey, Davis, + Raymond

student team on site

Let’s celebrate Patriece’s Home & C.H.O.I.C.E. House

Aerial view of Patriece's Home ribbon cutting

Late summer brought hot weather and warm festivities to Hale County, as Rural Studio celebrated two completed 5th-year team projects. Adam Davis, Daniel Burton, Laurel Holloway, and Lauren Lovell completed Patriece’s Home for our neighbors, Patriece and her family. And AC Priest, Davis Benfer, Hailey Osborne, and Raymond Teo designed and built a flexible duplex for C.H.O.I.C.E., a community organization in Uniontown, Alabama. Andrew Freear, Director of Rural Studio, praises the students and their projects: “These homes celebrate and serve rural communities and families, reflecting the best of Rural Studio’s mission. I am proud of the student teams, their important work, and their exciting futures.”

The Rural Studio community joined us in this celebration, including team members’ parents, local partners, generous donors, and esteemed alumni as well as beloved colleagues, friends, and neighbors. As we celebrate 30 years in Hale County, we are grateful every day for their energy, support, and encouragement. Freear, along with Justin Miller, Head of Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, offered opening remarks at each project’s ribbon cutting. Recipients of the homes and other members of Rural Studio spoke as well.

The opening of Patriece’s home was accompanied by birthday cake and a song because Patriece and her two children all have birthdays in August! We toured Patriece’s Home, a flexible, two-story house that will adapt to her family’s evolving needs. The number of occupants and their relationships can change in the future without home alterations or additions.

Students on the Patriece’s Home team look forward to bright futures as well. Adam is going to Chicago to work with friend and consultant Kiel Moe; Daniel moved to Birmingham (got married earlier this month!) and is working (remotely) for Seay, Seay & Litchfield Architects, who are based in Montgomery, Alabama; Laurel is now working with Brian MacKay-Lyons as a resident at the Ghost Lab in Nova Scotia, Canada; and Lauren is working at Fuqua & Partners Architects in Huntsville, Alabama. Read more about the project, in the students’ own words, on their blog.

Patriece’s Home

Evening view of the exterior of Patriece's Home

C.H.O.I.C.E. House

Nearly 200 people turned out for the opening of C.H.O.I.C.E. House, including the organization’s Director, Emefa Butler. This home, a flexible duplex, will be C.H.O.I.C.E.’s first emergency shelter for recently homeless individuals and families. It is also a prototype home: in the coming years, C.H.O.I.C.E. hopes to construct another house on the same site, using this project as a model for both design and construction techniques. The two duplexes will share resources like laundry facilities and outdoor recreation.

Ribbon cutting and champagne toast of C.H.O.I.C.E. House

The C.H.O.I.C.E. House ribbon cutting featured a bountiful meal prepared by Newbern Mercantile and Abadir’s. Newbern Mercantile provided barbeque pork sandwiches and coleslaw. Abadir’s menu included produce from Rural Studio Farm; it featured arugula and roast eggplant salad, fresh and roasted veggies, Za’atar sourdough bread, black-eyed pea spread, and plum cake.

We send best wishes to the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team for the next adventures. Davis is moving to Portland, Oregon; Haley is moving to Spain to work as a language and culture coordinator for a year; AC is looking for a job out West; and Raymond will stay on at Rural Studio this fall and then be off to find his next adventure. Read more about the C.H.O.I.C.E. House on the students’ blog.

Thank you to all who make this work possible!

_________

Photos by Timothy Hursley