Freear Awarded 2020 President’s Medal Tonight!

Join us tonight at 6 pm CST for a special online program as The Architectural League of New York presents the 2020 President’s Medal to Rural Studio Director Andrew Freear! The event will include remarks by Marlon Blackwell, Rosalie Genevro, Paul Lewis, and Billie Tsien, tributes by many friends of Rural Studio from around the country, and Andrew in conversation with Billie and Marlon. ⠀

FREE and open to all – please register in advance via Zoom here.

Raising Chimney

Live from HomeLab, it’s the Graduate Program! The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team members are officially Rural Studio master’s students. The team’s summer semester has started off hot with ventilation opening calibration.

Even with the latest ventilation opening adjustment, described in our airflow post, the data from the Concrete Chimney Experiment reveals the airflow is still choked. As you can see in the temperature signal graph below, the thermal mass surface temperature never rises above the interior air temperature as it should in an optimally tuned space. If we then look at the airflow graph below, we see that the updraft, bulk airflow during the night, is nearly double the downdraft, bulk airflow during the day. When the blue line is above zero, the system is in updraft and when below zero it is in downdraft. Both of these graphs allude that the thermal storage cycle and the buoyancy ventilation cycle are out of sync. This is due to a lack of air. Air drives the cycles as it brings warm air into the chimney to be absorbed and offloaded by the thermal mass.

The team examined their previous math for calculating the total area for the ventilation opening. They’ll spare you the gory details, but the predicted bulk air flow rate they were using to calculate the size was too small resulting in a ventilation opening that was too small. Thanks to the airflow sensors they no longer needed to use a predicted air flow rate and instead used the actual average airflow rate coming from the Concrete Chimney Experiment. After this recalculation the ventilation opening nearly doubled from 3/4” to 1 1/8”. The team then let the chimney do her thing for a week.

a graph showing two days of temperature signals, where the air temperature falls below the panel temperature
Black = Exterior Air
Dashed Gray = Interior Air
Orange = Thermal Mass Surface,
Dashed Orange = Thermal Mass Interior

The data is in and it is as hot as the Alabama asphalt. The team, along with their colleagues were correct in their assumption that the flow was being choked AND the new ventilation opening size is allowing the chimney to operate optimally! In the temperature signal graphs, the thermal mass surface temperature and the interior air temperature properly oscillate. Therefore, the thermal mass is absorbing the heat properly allowing it to be warmer than the interior air at times.

a graph showing two days of airflow data, where the downdraft is larger than the udraft
Blue = Bulk Air Flow

As you can see from the airflow graphs, the bulk airflow of the updraft and the down draft has equalized and is becoming more symmetrical. Both outcomes, in temperature and airflow, reveal there is now a proper amount of air moving through the chimney. The downdraft is still a bit more turbulent than the updraft however and the team wondered if this was due to the concrete pad underneath the chimney releasing heat it absorbed throughout the day. To combat this heat, the team jacked up their Concrete Chimney Experiment… literally!

To raise the chimney, in order to give it some more height via cinder blocks, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project used car jacks. The team will see if this helps with the heat interference and its possible effects on the air flow. 

two small white dogs in a car

As you can see Wolfie is still in town on his summer vacation! He and Copper like to observe the team work. To insure their safety as the chimney was being raised they watched from inside the car. They really love the car. For more science, design, and cute pets, stay tuned!

Rural Studio Adapts to Social Distancing

Like all Americans, the Rural Studio community has felt the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. We live in a difficult time, but our community has always adapted to new circumstances and has done so again. Social distancing and remote teaching has undoubtedly created unique challenges to our place-based, hands-on model of teaching and learning. However, as always, we remain committed to our neighbors and the work.

Sheltering in place invokes shelter for the soul, and the current challenges have only affirmed how important the work is. For now, our students may have laid down their construction tools, but they continue to work diligently —preparing the necessary communication, planning, and documentation needed to insure the viability of the future of their projects. Our commitment to the students’ success has never been stronger. Our Farm continues to increase its capacity to produce fresh nutritious vegetables, offering an alternative to food scarcity in rural communities. The Front Porch Initiative is also growing, adding partners and staff to build capacity and celebrating recent home completions. Through our ongoing research and development, we stand firm in our commitment to housing, health, wellness, and all aspects of sustainable rural living.

Student Work

Social distancing has required Rural Studio to move all instruction online, but with the students’ detailed planning, we will complete all projects for our partners and clients once social distancing is lifted.

Our 3rd-year students have protected the site of Ophelia’s Home and preserved their documentation so that next year’s 3rd-year students can complete the design and construction. Two 5th-year projects—the Hale County Hospital Courtyard II and Reggie’s Home—will also be completed in the future, informed by the strong documentation being developed by the current student teams.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation 5th-year project team graduated in May and will continue their research this summer in the Rural Studio master’s program. Students on the Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project team are the first graduates of our master’s program. They are collaborating with our partners, Salmaan Craig and Kiel Moe at McGill University and David Kennedy at Auburn, to draft a research paper about their findings. The 2020 20K Home team is drafting step-by-step instructions about how to build their design, which will contribute to the work of the Front Porch Initiative research team.

The Horseshoe Courtyard and the Moundville Archaeological Park Community Pavilion teams made significant progress this spring. When Auburn transitioned to online instruction, students secured both of these sites and immediately began developing the documentation required to complete the projects in the near future.

In addition to their studio projects, students exceeded expectations in adapting to their classes moving to an online format. In the History & Watercolor course, 3rd-year students traveled virtually to historic wood buildings in West Alabama and created watercolor hand drawings of each building. A new cabinet course for the 3rd-year students focused on the design and fabrication of millwork for 20K Ophelia’s Home. In the On & Beyond the Chair class, 5th-year students experimented by “taking a line for a walk,” producing daily drawings using quick hand drawings as a tool for both wondering and wandering.

The Farm

While many of us stay home, we have seen images from around the world of our Earth flourishing with cleaner air and water, affirming nature’s perseverance, plentifulness, and beauty. Rural Studio’s Farm has been similarly bountiful. Even during a time of social distancing, our Farm continues to produce nutritious food from earlier spring plantings. The Farm team continues to process and store as much of that produce as they can for later use. New plantings will also feed the Rural Studio community this fall.

The Front Porch Initiative

The Front Porch Initiative continues to grow our team.  Working online, the team continues to foster collaborations with both Institutional Partners and Field Test Partners, planning and building 20K homes in rural communities. In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, two high performance homes have been completed in Opelika, AL, and several other Field Test Partners will be breaking ground on homes this summer.

For more information and news about Rural Studio’s ongoing work, visit our website and continue checking our project blogs daily. Rural Studio will also publish its annual printed newsletter later this summer with more special features about students, more details about projects, and updates about Rural Studio’s many activities. Follow our news and blogs by subscribing to our email updates.

Farm Support Structures

Some crops on the farm have a growth habit that is best supported with the helping hand of a built structure.

Growing pole beans climb the bamboo and twine trellis

One such crop is pole beans, which send out runners to wind their way up whatever they can find. So farm manager Eric Ball and Emily McGlohn built a bamboo and twine structure for the growing bean vines to wind themselves up, though the runners still need a little help to “train” them to find the right places to climb.

Eric built another structure last spring to support blackberry canes. In the first year of growth, the blackberries produce primocanes, which were pruned and managed so that they spread across suspended wires, making them nearly invisible. In the second year, the established primocanes become floricanes, where flowers grow and then bear the fruit Rural Studio Farm is now harvesting.

Because the primocanes were pruned and supported by the wires, the fruit is borne off the canes in easy-to-pick cascades at three-foot and five-foot heights. As the floricanes produce berries, the plants also sprout new primocanes that will be next year’s floricanes. Once fruiting ends, Eric will cut out the spent floricanes and begin pruning and training the primocanes for next year’s harvest.

Eric, Steve Long, Xavier Vendrell, and Mary English also built a support structure for determinate field tomatoes so that they will have something to hold them up once they get top-heavy and begin bearing tomatoes.

Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, plants supported on string-lines—cucumbers, tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes—continue to bear fruit. The greenhouse zucchini has also been extremely prolific


Hello world, the Moundville Community Pavilion Team is now reporting from Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey to update everyone on the state of the project with the changes Coronavirus has brought.

With Auburn classes going online, the team had no choice but to hang up the hammers and spend some time at home. Navigating the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone and the Studio has made the tough decision to suspend all ongoing projects in compliance with stay at home orders and Auburn’s online requirements.

Since the future is very unsure for the world and the Studio and in order to protect the communities of Hale County, we are not currently planning to return to Moundville. Although we may not have the privilege of finishing the project, the clients have been assured that the pavilion will be completed by the Studio in the near future.

It is indescribably hard to leave behind an unfinished project so close to the end and the community that we have become so entrenched in, but we are, and will always be, incredibly grateful for the time we spent in Moundville and the opportunity to meet the incredible residents and Park employees.

In order to document our time with the project, we are working together through Zoom meetings and Google Drive to create a project book. We hope that it will serve as a research tool for future Rural Studio teams and help guide the completion of the project by explaining our intentions for what remains to be finished.

We hope to continue to provide updates and content for the book through the blog. Meanwhile to brighten up your quarantine, you can hear a little more about the project’s involvement in the community as well as the team’s personal take on the experience of building in Moundville here: as part of the University of Alabama’s “Museums From Your Home” campaign.