Blog

In Summer-y: Innovative Storage, Stunning Screens, and Exciting Construction

Since Pig Roast, we’ve been working hard to finalize the design of our storage cube and screen, order and acquire materials, and start the construction process.

More than just a place to store

To achieve our goal of a continuous pinup surface while maintaining the functionality of the storage cube, our team has been deep diving into door design. As a result, we decided the doors will be the full height of the cube walls, and will be mounted using center pivot hinges to allow them to remain flush with the wall when closed. These hinges will be mounted into the concrete of the slab at the base, and then their tops will be held by a sturdy steel plate that wraps around the top of the wall and down the southern side.

Holy Moly, A Screen!

Additionally, we’ve also been working on the details of our screen. After hanging strings at several test heights, we discovered the final height of the screen should be 14 feet. Then, we decided it will be mounted to the exterior face of the columns using a Unistrut channel.

We considered many different perforation patterns and colors for the metal of the screen. In the end, we decided on a 7.2″ ribbed profile in midnight black perforated with 1/8” diameter holes spaced 3/8” apart on center. This pattern will give us a good balance of transparency, glare protection, and rain protection.

Construction Zone

Two weeks ago, our team officially began construction. We began by gathering our building materials and setting up our construction zone on the Fabrication Pavilion slab. Then, we removed the white oak from the eastern shear wall, carefully cataloging each piece so they can be put back on the wall in the right order after construction ends. We marked out the placement of our walls on the ground, confirming that our corners were square, and then began constructing the walls.

As of now, the northern and southern walls are in place and braced against the shear wall, and the two end columns of the east and west sides have been attached. Next, we will be making a large header beam from 2″ x 12″ lumber to span the entire length of the east and west sides and make room for doors in the future.

Hope to see you next month for our end-of-summer construction update!

Curb Alert!

Hello again and welcome back to the newest addition of the Rural Studio Bathhouse blog! We are so thrilled to show everyone what we’ve been up to recently! We have a big concrete update, but first—we’ve started stacking our wood walls!

student team poses in outdoor shower
Progress on the outdoor shower!

This is super exciting because this is the major focus of the project, and will be the finish wall material in most of the spaces. Continuing with the construction of the outdoor shower, we have started the stacking here. With the help of the jig table that we built a few months ago, we can align our pieces of cypress wood on one side (the interior of the building) and can clamp them down to the board below, creating a uniform module of five pieces.

We are assembling the modules in the Fabrication Pavilion so we can have a clean working surface. This allows us to stack the modules as they will be set up on site, get everything square and level, and then move the modules in place on site.

We have just a few more layers of modules to assemble and then will begin the process of drilling the holes for the threaded rods in each module.

image of a corner of the stacked outdoor shower
Box-joined corners

As the stacking of the outdoor shower walls was taking place, we also began the process of pouring the concrete curbs around the perimeter of the outdoor shower. We marked the curbs on the slab, assembled framed walls in place on the slab to hold the plywood formwork, and then leveled and attached the plywood to the formwork frames. Next, it was time for the pour!

image of interior curb formwork
Outdoor shower curb formwork

With the assistance of some great helpers, we were able to form a wheelbarrow and bucket brigade, lifting the concrete up into the curbs in the outdoor shower.

After two days, we were able to remove the interior formwork and the vertical formwork walls on the exterior, revealing the hefty slab and curbs!

Once we saw how the pour went for the outdoor shower, we used the same process to build the curb formwork for the toilet and shower pods.

Pouring the outdoor shower first did teach us some things, including how to attach the plywood to the frames and the need to account for gaps at the seam between the formwork and slab due to the leveling process, and generally we learned the overall process of getting the concrete into the curbs.

After caulking all gaps, the formwork was set and it was ready to pour!

image of finished curb formwork on toilet and shower pods
Before the pour

Again with the help of some fantastic helpers, we recently poured the curbs for the toilet and shower pods and are so excited to almost be done with concrete!

image of toilet and shower pod right after concrete pour
After!

As this is being written, the team has been taking off all the interior curb formwork and the exterior vertical walls on the toilet and shower pod, revealing the slab and curbs!

We have another concrete pour coming up in a few days. This next pour will be for the foundation of a gray water filtration system for the outdoor shower run-off and the foundation of the bottle-filling station at the front of the building. We are already busy preparing for that pour with more digging and more rebar! Afterward, the only concrete left will be a topping slab going into each of the existing pods (the laundry and getting ready pods).

The team is very excited about the progress being made and cannot wait to dive back into the assembly of the wood walls for the outdoor shower and the rest of the building!

students take a rest in outdoor shower
Time for a nap!

Thanks for following along with the Bathhouse blog! We look forward to providing another update very soon.

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan

The Start of the Home Stretch

Welcome back to the 18×18 House blog, summer edition!

Meagan and Julie with Detyrick

Temperatures have officially risen in Hale County, and the 18×18 House team has had several milestones in the past month. Drywall was installed, trees were planted, siding is going up, paint is on the walls…

First, at the start of the summer, the team had to say “See you later” to Naomi, who traveled back home to South Africa. But this isn’t goodbye! We hope to see her back before the project opening.

18x18 Team

Digging the Groundwork

Then Jake, Julie, and Meagan got going on planting trees around the house, which was more work than you might think! They needed holes much larger and deeper than their containers, and plenty of water to protect them from the summer heat. Thanks for the beautiful trees goes to Plantation Tree Company near Selma, who donated all four!

And some shenanigans were involved, as usual.

Jake watering tree

We also had a visitor this month! Thanks to Jake’s sister Ella, we were able to set and cover the French drains on site, to help control water flow around the house. French drain systems include perforated pipes that are buried with gravel, to keep water from pooling around the property. Ours will funnel water away from the eaves of the house and from the porch. And after we put her to work shoveling gravel in the summer heat, Ella will never come to see us again.

Siding! And a porch!

We also wrapped all four sides in battens and purlins, to which the siding will be attached. The strips of wood are going to hold the upper portions of our siding a couple inches out from the house, to make a shadow line and hide refrigerant lines from the air conditioning system. The eastern façade is the first one completed, and isn’t it satisfying?

Soon, the steel porch roof will be installed, which was fabricated for the team by Superior Metal Works in Newbern, and delivered to site. It’s a big part of the exterior of the house, so we were eagerly awaiting its delivery!

DRYWALL!!!!

Amongst all the work outside, the most exciting part of the month was the drywall installation! There’s a huge difference inside the house now, and we’re so happy to see how light fills the spaces. Painting started right away so that interior finish work can begin soon. That means taping a LOT of corners and using very long extension rollers to get to that double-height ceiling.

The light in the house with drywall installed is better and brighter than we could have hoped. How ’bout them windows?

The summer is passing in a whirlwind at the 18×18 House, and the opening is in sight! We’re going full speed ahead with finishes, inside and outside. Stay tuned to see the end of our story!

Treating wastewater and improving health in West Alabama

Phase 1 Ribbon Cutting of Newbern’s new sanitary sewer system located at Rural Studio headquarters

The Alabama Black Belt region has long struggled with a lack of wastewater treatment infrastructure, which is necessary for both the safety of wildlife and the health of residents. Only half of Black Belt residents have access to a clean and effective municipal sanitary sewer system. The other half are expected to treat waste on their own property.

Rural Studio is part of a large collaboration aiming to address this challenge through an alternative wastewater treatment system. We celebrated the completion of Phase 1 of this new sanitary sewer system at a Newbern Community Fish Fry & Ribbon Cutting on Tuesday, June 4th, 2024.

Community Fish Fry Dinner provided by the University of Alabama

The event welcomed nearly 150 neighbors and friends to learn more about the project and what’s next for the broader Newbern community. On hand to greet and educate the community was the whole research team, consisting of six university and not-for-profit organizations: University of Alabama, University of South Alabama (USA), University of North Carolina, Arizona State University, Columbia University, Black Belt Community Foundation, and Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater.

The Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Consortium devised solutions to address wastewater needs throughout the Black Belt, and Rural Studio is hosting the demonstration of one such solution. Called a “cluster” system, this treatment unit will initially connect clusters of 50 or so homes within a five-mile radius of the Studio. The homes will share one water treatment unit, which is specially designed for the Black Belt soil. It uses two-inch pipes (instead of larger sewer pipes found in septic systems), so it can withstand the challenges of the clay soil.

For many rural residents nationally, septic systems provide the necessary wastewater treatment, but this method is not an effective solution in the Black Belt. These systems average $10,000-$30,000, making them exorbitantly expensive for lower income residents. Even more prohibitive is the Black Belt’s soil condition: the area’s soil is made of clay, which often leads to backups in septic tanks. It is estimated that roughly half of rural residents in Black Belt counties have failing septic systems or are simply dumping wastewater directly on to their land, leading to raw sewage in and around homes. The Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Consortium, comprised of volunteer experts from industry, government, and academia, was formed in 2018 to directly address the rural wastewater challenge. As part of this consortium, Rural Studio is leading the way in wastewater treatment for Hale County.

Wastewater treatment unit shown at the 2024 Pig Roast (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The Rural Studio wastewater project is a prototype for future projects, leveraging funds from several state and federal agencies, including the American Rescue Plan Act, commonly known as the Biden infrastructure bill, the USDA, and Columbia World Projects. These agencies are collaborating to build a plan for increasing the number of Black Belt residents with access to proper wastewater treatment from 50% to 75%. Initially, the wastewater project will be limited to the Rural Studio community, before expanding into community homes. This first phase will provide a proof of concept for local rural residents and show that such a system is both effective and non-invasive.

Associate Professor Emily McGlohn, who spearheads Rural Studio’s wastewater project, stresses the importance of this acceptance: “We know that for a community project to be successful, especially one being presented to the community from an outside group, you really need to let people see it and understand it. So, phase one will just serve us. It’ll be open to the public, and it will let our local community, our local government, individuals and anybody else to come understand the system.”

Along with its hosting role for this first treatment system, Rural Studio, particularly McGlohn, acts as the connective tissue between the government agencies, the Consortium, the collaborating universities, and—most importantly—the residents of Hale County. “I am the community advocate. I communicate with our neighbors to make sure they know what’s going on, with the engineer, with the other faculty team with USA and Alabama, and with the contractor.”

Over its 30 years, Rural Studio’s mission has expanded to promote community wellness in its rural community, and the wastewater project is an outgrowth of that work. Clean sanitation improves the health and well-being of our West Alabama neighbors in an area that has been under-resourced for generations. McGlohn emphasizes the Studio’s vital role in this important work: “It’s truly a public health crisis that the Black Belt counties find themselves in. And there are so few solutions. That’s why we’re here to help.”

Presenting… Your New Leftovers!

Summer has begun, and we’re getting ready to begin our tenure as official “leftovers” here on the Fabrication Pavilion team.

Pig Roasted

At the end of April, Pig Roast was the main event. Our team had a great time attending alumni lectures, seeing all the projects in progress, attending the Rosie’s Home ribbon cutting (two members of our team worked on the project in third year), and presenting our design to all of our visitors. The night ended with a bang of Samuel Mockbee’s famous “whiffle dust” and a graduation ceremony under the stars, with roasts of graduates and delicious catfish all around.

We graduated!

The next weekend, the team made the trip to Auburn for the university’s graduation ceremony. It was a wonderful day surrounded by friends and family.

What’s the Scope?

After a lot of reflection and unforeseen circumstances, the scope of the Fabrication Pavilion project has changed. From now on, primarily we will be focusing on a prototype weather screen, a presentation and tool storage core, and the replacement of the existing roof.

Weather to Screen

Since we returned from graduation, we have been refining the design of these elements, beginning with the weather screen. We have been testing out different heights visually against the existing columns, and hammering out the details of how this new system will interact with the existing structure. With the redefined scope, we will be constructing a screen on the eastern side of the pavilion to test its effectiveness long-term, and the faculty will be installing the screen at the western side after the roof is replaced.

A Storage Core

Further, the mock-up that we built for Pig Roast was an overall success. It served well as a pinup space for both the Fabrication Pavilion and CLT Core House teams. We have been refining this design to serve as a storage area for woodworking and metalworking tools and cleaning supplies, utility access, and a presentation space.

The concept is for the presentation space to appear as a continuous plane the eastern shear wall. The closet doors will be concealed to maintain this as a clean surface for pinups. The utilities will be concealed in the space between its southern wall, while the tools can be safely locked inside. Finally, this core will provide electrical outlets for building and PowerPoints. We have also been exploring lighting solutions for nighttime presentations.

See you again soon for our next update!