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Work Begins for the Fall 3rd-Year Students

This new group of 3rd-year students at Rural Studio is a small, but mighty team of two students. Peter and Laura are working with 3rd-year professor Emily McGlohn and instructor Chelsea Elcott to design and build a small home for one of our West Alabama neighbors.

Meet the new 3rd-years

Meet Laura Forrest and Peter Harpring, the dynamic duo! These two, although having just met each other, are proving to be a solid pair.

Peter is from Louisville, Kentucky. He’s an introvert, a younger sibling, and loves summer, dogs, and coffee. Laura is from Corner, Alabama. She’s an extrovert, an older sibling, and loves winter, cats, and tea. Despite their differences, synergy runs well with these two.

Drafting Practice

Emily and Chelsea began the semester by introducing a type of design presentation their students are less familiar with: hand drafting. At Rural Studio, the most-used methods to visually portray an idea are sketching, diagramming by hand, and drafting.

To become more acquainted with hand-drafting toolslike lead holders and T squaresLaura and Peter revisited a design project from their previous architecture school year and practiced hand drawing and diagramming. Through returning to projects they were already familiar with, the 3rd-years could spend more time focusing on the process of drawing by hand rather than learning a new skill while designing a project at the same time.

Learning to Draw 1:1 Detail Drawings

Once the 3rd-years mastered their hand-drawing technique, they began a Full-Scale Drawing Workshop. To better understand what makes up a wood-framed house, the 3rd-year cohort traveled to building sites around Newbern that were under various stages of completion. Starting at Rev. Walker’s Home’s unfinished “bonus room,” Laura and Peter learned a new vocabulary of construction terms and were able to translate the incomplete wall assembly that they saw into a detailed section drawing through a wall. Then, the whole team visited the Model Homes closed-up and finished wall cavities and, with a little guidance, created a one-to-one scale drawing of a section through 20K Joanne’s Model Home, depicting the structure and details all the way from the ground up to the roof.

Full-scale section through 20K Joanne’s Model Home

A Little Bit of On-Site Construction Work

After Labor Day weekend, the 3rd-year crew took a break from their studio work in Red Barn and set out to get some on-site experience. In just a couple of days, the team finished a few small projects at recently completed 3rd-year projects: 20K Ophelia’s Home and Mrs. Patrick’s Home. Laura, with the help of Mason’s welding expertise, fabricated a steel handrail for Ophelia’s back porch. To make Mrs. Patrick’s porch a little safer and more easily accessed, Peter, Emily, and Chelsea added a few stairs to her front porch.

It’s going to be a jam-packed semester. Stay tuned on our blog!

Fresh Summer Corn

We grew sweet corn for the first time ever on the Rural Studio Farm!

A view of the storehouse between tall rows of corn plants

Throughout the year Chef Cat prepares meals for our students, staff, and faculty several times per week using our fresh produce from the Rural Studio Farm. One of our goals this summer was to provide the freshest and sweetest corn for the meals. Approximately 12 hours after sweet corn is picked, the sugars in the corn kernels begin to convert to starch. To achieve this goal of having fresh and sweet corn, we grew three different varieties that mature at slightly different times, which allowed for staggered harvests over the summer. Cat was also able to process any leftover corn for future meals.

Proper pollination is essential to a good yield. We planted the corn in blocks of at least four rows to encourage more thorough pollination by honey bees.

A nice view of corn rows with tassels

The male part of the corn is called the tassel, and it grows at the top of the plant producing pollen. The pollen must then be transferred to the familiar female silk; each strand of which acts as a tube to transfer a pollen grain to an ovule. Each mature corn kernel represents a successful pollination from tassel to silk to ovule.

Typically, one stalk only produces about one or two (possibly up to four) ears of corn. Corn doesn’t produce as much per square foot as some other food crops, but having fresh organic corn to eat at lunch was a rare summertime treat for our students, staff, and faculty! We will definitely grow corn again next summer. It was absolutely delicious!

Neckdown Week with TMBV

Live from Fall 2021 Neckdown Week, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team (TMBV)–and helpers! This week, the team accomplished a variety of tasks with the help of the 5th and 3rd-year students.

First on the agenda, the team completed the Cooling Porch ground surfaces. This included packing crushed ground surface concrete pieces and building the stairs. The Cooling Porch stairs were comprised of stacked concrete pieces cut from the foundation pour excess. David Hill, professor in Auburn’s School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Planning, got in on the concrete saw action! Continuing on the stair action, the team also installed the steel stringer and handrails for the Test Building entry. After pouring a concrete footing for the steel stair, Rowe came back and welded on all the treads.

With all the groundwork in the Cooling Porch finally complete and three sets of stairs built, the TMBV team is calling this Neckdown week a huge success. Thank you to all our helpers this week! Next up, thermal mass concrete panels–stay tuned!

Sneak peek of the Test Buildings at the end of Neckdown week.

Gravel Infill

East Entry Stair

South Entry Stair

Steel Stair

Shiny House, Neckdowns, Things Exterior

Welcome back to the journal, dear reader. In my last entry, I reported that Hale County had entered a state of oppressive heat and humidity. Several weeks have passed since that report, and climatically, nothing has changed. It’s 95oF in Hale County today, but they say it feels like 106oF. Let me ask you, dear reader, that if it feels like 106, then is it not 106? Alas, my mind wanders. Such a question is a trifle in comparison to my duty to you, that is to recount in an earnest fashion, the activity of Reverend Walker’s Home team.

While the environment is still and sweltering, my crew is the opposite. Intrepid and strong, and with the help of a protective roof, they carry on. I will admit, this motley crew are always raising the bar. I previously issued orders for them to complete the exterior of the home in a timely manner, and that they have. It was not a trivial amount of work. The tasks were varied and many. But yet again, the team has risen to the occasion. Doors and windows were built and installed concurrently with the application of siding and flashing. With additional help from new students during Neckdown week, roll roofing was installed, the site was graded, beneath-ground drains installed, and a small patio built.

Doors & Windows

As Addie and Becca finished windows in the woodshop, Paul and George would install them on site. The whole unit is fabricated in the shop, making installation quick and easy. Pre-hung doors were installed and custom trim applied to the face of them to match the window details. As the doors and windows went in the house, siding and flashing were installed as allowed by what openings were done.

Siding

Reverend Walker’s Home is clad in the same galvalume r-panel that makes up the roof. Large, cut to length sheets make a fairly easy process. The only tricky parts are at those window locations where c-shapes need to be made out of the sheet metal. Bottom flashing was installed prior to siding.

leveling bottom flashing
installing r-panel
sided wall

Flashing

After the siding was put up, metal flashing and trim were next. The corner trim was installed first and then the top of wall flashing. The typical metal building corner trim has always been a team favorite. It is incredibly easy to install and is so big that it somehow disappears, or appears as just another ridge in the r-panel. Thank you fat corner trim. Top flashing was trickier with the different angles and cuts needed to make crisp connections between pieces. But with some practice cuts and good measurements it came together without much trouble.

cutting flashing with an angle grinder
flashed, trimmed, capped

Roofing

As flashing wrapped up, Neckdown week began. Each day we were assisted by one or two new arrivals, bright-eyed and incredibly clean. We were also able to welcome Becca and Addie back from their shop sabbatical/site hiatus! Reunited and reinforced, we set about our work. Becca and Addie led the charge on the application of asphalt roll roofing to the top of the volumes. The roofing provides the final layer of water protection to the two volumes underneath the roof.

roofing layed out

Fireplace Patio

As the roll roofing went on, Paul and George were joined by several Landscape Architecture students, who offered advice and assistance in making a small gravel patio. After a quick design discussion, the area was graded, and a first length of French drain was installed so that we could move forward with edging and infilling with gravel. The rest of the drain would be installed later.

relax

Grading

When the roofing and patio jobs were complete, it was all hands on deck for site grading. With the help of the skid-steer, earth was moved from the excavated pile to the slab edge and graded away. Additionally, several large ruts were filled in and the site was smoothed out. The septic mound was extended with any remaining earth in the pile.

So, post grading, what we are left with is a mostly finished exterior of a house. There are always a few odds and ends to take care of, but there is no doubt that neckdown week was a huge success on site.

Certainly, much has happened in a short period of time. I tell you once more, dear reader, that this bunch is special. Of course this is not to say that it could have been done without my strong leadership. It takes a steady paw to guide a vessel this size through choppy waters. On the horizon I see finish carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and other odds and ends. I will continue to record the progress of Reverend Walker’s Home for posterity, the world deserves to know the intricacies of our grand adventure. Alas, dear reader, the sun draws closer to the horizon and I have grown weary. I must put aside my journal in favor of a nap. I think I will chose a nice spot in between two elephant ears Paul has acquired for this occasion.

Yours sincerely,

Taterhead

How To Fill A Wall

The latest is in from the Myers’ Home project site! The team has squared away interior framing and are close to debuting their windows. This means it’s about time for the house to get its nerve center. The Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing train is leaving the station in Newbern.

Becoming Plumbers…

With Riley offsite in the woodshop working on the custom window units, Madeline and Judith have been at the helm on site for the past few weeks. Madeline is taking the reins on plumbing the whole house, and ducting it too! Judith has got the power alongside her, running electrical wires, installing outlet and switch boxes, sorting circuits, and labeling everything.

The plumbing contains stub-outs to the attic space allowing a bathroom to be built for future generations. These are beside the water heater, also in the attic to save space in the downstairs. Electrical decisions were also based on rooms that could serve different purposes across generations. Dedicated circuits are in place for AC units and the home is treated in zones of use.

Lighting the Way

This also entails a discussion in lighting the house, helped along by a new consultant to the Studio, Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi in Mexico City.

The flexible nature of Myers’ Home doesn’t stop at the plan, section, or material finishes. The team’s been applying their goal of generational expansion and flexibility to the lights in the house too. The home was studied in zones to determine lighting strategies, and tools (fixtures) were chosen to achieve these. The team is working to balance task lighting and spot lighting with the necessary amount of immediate switched light in a space.

The team mirrored lighting and fan locations in each zone for alignment no matter the scheme of flex walls. They then worked to place lights in the core such that it remains a hearth and can be the main source of immediate light in the home.

As these folks press on with electrical work, they’ll begin to test how to optimize the tools they’ve chosen for each flexible space.

It’s Getting Hot in Here…

Drywall looms and Myers’ Home Team must consider all that the wall must hold before it is sealed up. Wires and pipes have been run, the lights are set in their places. It’s time to stuff if full of foam and fiberglass. The insulation line for Myers’ Home is at the roof. This requires five and a half inches of spray-in, open-cell insulation. It’s one of the few jobs that the Studio hires out. Meanwhile, the team put up blocking framing upstairs and left the premises for a day. Upon return, the attic was cool as a cucumber and ready for windows.

The original intention for the home was to install a flash-and-batt insulation system downstairs. However, foam prices are cost-prohibitive and the team moved forward with Rockwool insulation in downstairs walls. Madeline, Riley, and volunteer Bess from Project Horseshoe Farm knocked out the ground floor in just a couple mornings!

Sheetrock City

The team put some quick blocking in place and documented each wall before making the call for sheetrock. The crew arrived first thing and got to it. By lunchtime, the first layer of finishes were all in place. All that remains for drywall is mudding and sanding to smooth everything over.

Neckdown

Much of this happened over the course of Neckdown weekwhere new students knock out work around Hale County using, arguably, everything but their heads. Myers’ Home played host to a few helpers who helped begin more layers of finish materials in and out of the home. Many thanks to new 5th-year students Jackie, Hailey, Davis, Brenton, and Caitlyn, as well as 3rd-years Peter and Laura!

Window units ready to show their faces soon! In the meantime, the home is being battened down with flashing and prepped for siding as the summer slides on by. Check out Myers’ Home team’s brethren over at Rev. Walker’s Home as they also install windows and siding. Or jump to the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation crew for some big moves upward! Best to all, over and out.