Blog

Leaf, Stem, Root

The crisp, cool fall mornings are some of the best times of the year to be working at Rural Studio Farm.

Two students take a moment in the field to talk with one another as the dawn casts spectral light across the morning clouds

With the fruits of Summer harvested, the Fall crops of leaves, roots, and stems have become the farm’s focus.

Students and staff can now enjoy fresh green salads from the farm every lunch until the weather becomes hot again.

Full heads of salanova lettuce, both red and green, look beautiful in their neat arrangements within raised beds in the greenhouse in the morning light

In addition to a variety of fresh lettuces, the farm is also producing spinach, baby greens, kale, collard greens, beets, hakurei turnips, radishes, peanuts, turnips, scallions, carrots, mustard greens, sugar snap peas, and snow peas.

Two rows of carrot foliage in the foreground with trellised sugar snap peas in the background

With the next freeze right around the corner, most of the field production is halting for the Winter. To maintain and promote healthy soils, as well as to protect against erosion, the students broadcast a cover crop mix into the beds and winter rye grass into the aisles. It is also a good time to tidy and clean things on the farm so that it looks good while it rests in the cold.

Morrisette house with rows of bright green cover crops planted out in the farm

Free the Stairs!

Since Halloween Reviews, the 5th-year students designing Patrice’s Home have shifted their design focus of the extra unit within the home. The team is now exploring pushing the larger of the two units to the second floor.

But how would the home function if one family is using all of the spaces? With a helpful review from visiting architect and Rural Studio alum, Amanda Loper, from David Baker Architects, the team is cooking up two schemes that divide the first floor but keep the laundry shared. One scheme is a long shotgun unit and the other is a wider wrapping unit.

The strategy to keep spaces separate frees the stairs to be wholly used by the users living on the second floor. Next, the team will investigate opportunities and challenges of an open staircase in the home, including light, ventilation, storage, user experience, and (potentially) a dormer.

Vignettes of sixteen ways that stairs can be used other than circulation.

The team continues to cook these various schemes and analyze the connection of the interior to exterior porches. Keep watching out for Patrice’s Home team to see what these ideas bake into!

An arial photo of the four team members working at their desks in Red Barn.

Small Spaces, Big Questions

After weeks of work, the C.H.O.I.C.E. House Emergency Shelter team finally got the chance to meet with the Executive Director of C.H.O.I.C.E., Emefa Butler! The team got to show her what we have been working on and further discuss Emefa’s vision and details of the project scope. Initially, we were asked to design and build two units and a shared washer and dryer space. However, through many design iterations, we found that aggregating the units into one larger volume is a more efficient way to reach the goals of the project. For example, the “dead space” in between the individual units would most likely be unoccupiable and cause maintenance issues. Aggregation offers a hierarchy of outdoor spaces with a private porch and a shared porch to give C.H.O.I.C.E.’s clients the opportunity to socialize, but not force interaction. After presenting our findings to the client, she was fully on board with aggregating the units for the financial and social benefits. 

As we move forward with aggregation, we are still wrestling with the question of what a dignified dwelling is and how we can instill dignity into small spaces. To understand how the idea of dignity would manifest itself into architecture, we drew vignettes of what the ideal condition could be for each space. From this, we learned that instilling dignity isn’t necessarily done with big moves like many windows or a dramatic form. It can be as simple as having enough space to put a toothbrush or a designated place to hang up clothes. 

Along with these vignettes that we developed in studio, we had the pleasure of working with Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects in Birmingham, AL, to develop these dignified goals into our design of the individual unit. 

team meeting with Amanda Loper
Amanda Loper helping us understand some of the big questions that arise from small spaces
team working in studio
AC keeping the team up to date with a new Harry-Styles-themed calendar

The current iteration is built around a “core” that consolidate all plumbing, storage, and a third sleeping space to the center of the plan. This allows for more open spaces on either end, while also acting as a privacy buffer between the sleeping and living spaces.  

plan iteration

Thanks for tuning into the continuing story of the emergency shelters… or should we say dignified dwellings? 

Meet Me on the Porch

The Myers’ Home team has been busy preparing the porch structure on the Western face of the home. This porch is unique among previous Rural Studio projects for a few reasons: It’s fabricated from steel, has its own slab, and barely touches the rest of Myers’ Home.

Mildew, Mil-don’t

Looking back, the home was designed for longevity and flexibility through generations. In previous Rural Studio homes with front porches, the space is most often subtractive. This means that the open porch is carved from the main volume of the house and its structural system. In doing so, the rafters are exposed and gaps between trusses are exposed. These must be filled in some way, usually bird blocking. The other solution is a soffit under the eaves.

In both cases, the exposed undersides of the rafters or soffit are nearly always in shade and tend to mildew. Over time the uncovered portion of the truss or rafter can degrade faster than the interiorized segment. In these cases the whole member is still compromised.

The team addresses this problem by eliminating the condition entirely. Myers’ Home has no true eaves, only a slight overhang of the corrugated roofing material. Flashing details are tight and the long Western porch is entirely removed from the structure of the house.

Finding Your Footing

But how’s that little gap mitigated? A separate foundation for the porch is planned. Ideally, this job could be completed with just the team and some extra hands in one morning. This settled into five separate pavers, with two inches of gravel between and roughly a foot of separation from the main house slab.

Before the pavers can be placed though, footings for the metal columns of the porch must be set. This system shook out to be a trench footing, with ten-inch-deep reinforced footings at the columns and a six-inch-deep trench spanning each bay.

Couldn’t do it without a little help from our friends!

With the help of a handful of 5th-year students and professors Andrew Freear and Steve Long, the pour was complete in just about an hour with all levels squared away. The team can look on to the next pour the following week of the pavers.

Prep for the latter involves formwork once again, this time with removable dividers between eight by eight-foot segments. These folks took a leaf out of Horseshoe Courtyard‘s book and used a system of stakes and plywood strips for this maneuver. They then mound backfill dirt around to keep concrete from spilling out beneath the forms. The last step before the concrete arrives is reinforcement with metal mesh and grade pins. The mesh strengthens the concrete as it settles over time and grade pins are fluorescent marked stakes driven to signal the correct level of concrete in the forms.

Finally, the team can tackle their third and last concrete pour of the project. The truck arrived and they were soon in the groove of a process with aid of Patrice’s Home team and Steve. Riley manned the chute; Judith, Daniel, Adam, and Lauren shoveled and screeded; Madeline and Lauren troweled and floated away; and Steve edged each one.

These pavers, being on the porch, are also exposed aggregate which necessitates an additional step after the concrete is finished but still wet. Following a half hour’s wait, Judith misted a specialized concrete retarder atop the fresh pavers, bright ectoplasm green. This allows the majority of the concrete to cure normally while the topmost layer of cement is kept a slurry.

After roughly eight hours, Madeline and Judith return in the evening to hose and scrub the surface of the pavers and wash away the cement. This reveals a texture of the aggregate, in this case pea gravel specially ordered for this type of slab. The team is aiming for a change in surface material between the concrete of the porch and that of the interior as well as a more rugged finish for the home’s entrance.

Weld, Weld, Weld

These three can now focus on the porch structure itself, made entirely of metal with a corrugated roof to match that of the main home. Thanks to the generosity of Studio friend, Jim Turnipseed, the team was able to spend about a week in Columbiana, Alabama at Turnipseed International’s metal shop. There they built jigs, practiced welds, fabricated purlins, and built bents.

With the oversight of teachers Flo and Luis, they quickly learn the equipment, cut pieces to length, and weld up a storm.

Purlins are up first, a good practice run as most welds will be hidden from sight. For east of installation and transport, purlins are designed as mats. These mats are welded in a line and installed as a single unit in each bay. Tables are placed a specified width apart and a simple rectangular jig is made with four ninety-degree angles to catch the mat’s corners.

The bents are pitched with a solid four-inch-wide plate welded atop to catch the purlin mats and provide more tolerance. These take more complex jig-work. The needed angle cannot be achieved in the range of the band saw’s angle. So the extra distance is made up by welding a separate tray to make up the difference.

Following this, the angle for the bents’ top and bottom knee-joint are welded to the tables similarly to the purlin jig. Once the pieces are arranged, baseplates with holes drilled are attached to the bottom of the columns. These baseplates are what will anchor the porch structure to the footings poured earlier.

A big ol’ stack of purlins

The final step in fabrication is to prepare the members for galvanization. A series of half-inch holes must be drilled in all pieces to allow them to drain. This is relevant when components are dipped in the zinc bath stage. Results can be…explosive, otherwise.

Let’s Taco ’bout Halloween

The welded component are shipped off to Mississippi for galvanization! The team is on their merry way back to Newbern to continue site work. But several days earlier the team returned to Hale briefly for the annual Halloween Reviews! Those who may have spent a few days in this neck of the woods may recognize the wall murals from Greensboro’s own Mi Tenampa Mexican restaurant. As leftover students from the previous year, these three spend review day listening in on new thesis and 3rd-year work, attending the costume contest, and eating quite a few Reese’s peanut butter cups.

a red pepper and two human-sized cactus cardboard cutouts stand in front of three people

Bringing Down the Hammer(drill)

While waiting on the return of the porch structure, Madeline, Judith, and Riley move back into finishes and porch groundwork.

Judith and Riley borrow the Studio’s hammer drill and a masonry bit and spend a morning drilling four six-inch-deep holes in each footing. Riley has a specialized jig that expedites the process. After snagging only a bit of rebar, they’re ready for the next stage. Threaded rods are anchored into the holes with epoxy, these will catch those baseplates on the porch columns. With a system of threaded rods and nuts, the team can micro-adjust the levels of the bents upon installation.

That’s what’s going on around town, catch the final stages of finishes soon. Myers’ Home is getting fitted out with cabinetry, sinks, stair treads, and more!

Cladding, Concrete, Continuing

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team’s days of pouring concrete and manning the man lift are over. All of the internal thermal mass concrete panels have been poured, cured, and installed in the Concrete Test Building. Another milestone hit is the completion of the exterior cladding (minus the Cooling Porch ceiling). The team waved goodbye to both the articulating man lift, generously donated to the project by Sunbelt Rentals, and to team member Livia. She journeyed to Austin, TX, to work for Rural Studio Alum Lucy Begg and Robert Gay at their firm, Thoughtbarn. Good luck Liv!

Let’s check out the progress!

Cladding Completion

The team met their goal of finishing all cladding which required the articulating man lift by the end of October. The bleach-stained cypress covers all exterior surfaces including the Chimneys. The team left one side of the cladding longer than necessary. Then they came back with a skill saw and a guide to give one clean cut. This ensured that all corner reveals were exactly 1/2 inch wide.

Interior Optimized

Over 70 1-1/8 inch concrete panels now line the walls of the Concrete Test Building. The team crafted formwork and processes for pouring, transporting, and installing each panel. Behind the panels is 1/2 inch rigid insulation which creates a thermal break from the OSB sheathing during the testing phase. For roughly the next year, the Test Buildings will be unoccupied as temperature and ventilation measurements are continuously recorded. Afterward, the Test Buildings will be prepared for either more experiments or occupation by 3rd-year students living on Morrisette Campus. Check out the nearly complete Concrete Test Building below! Only some buffing and shining to go!

Bonus!

Also in the works as of late is a vent cap for the bottom chimney opening within the Test Buildings. This cap seals the lower ventilation opening shut during winter occupation. Seen below is Rowe welding a frame for the hatch!

Don’t miss Jeff and Rowe’s wonderful Halloween Review costumes. Jeff as his prized Milwaulkee leaf blower and Rowe, a leaf, one of many victims. Keep checking back in as the Test Buildings near completion!