Blog

Week 77: A General Update

Students working outside on Morrisette Campus

Live from Newbern, Alabama, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team! 77 weeks in Hale County and the graduate student team is still firing on all cylinders. This post, they’ve got updates on concrete panels, drainage, and the steel walkway and stair. Plus, the wonders of the Wood-Mizer, a portable sawmill, for those readers who make it to the very end!

Panel Pour Product

Section Isometric: a peak at the interior concrete panels

A couple of weeks back the TMBV team poured four, new concrete panels. These panels were designed to test tongue and groove joining system. Also, this round of test concrete panels experimented with vertical formwork.

As predicted during the struggle of formwork construction and concrete pouring, the vertically poured panels did not turn out so well. However, the team made promising headway with the new joining method. Alright, now that the panels have cured, let’s take a look at the material.

First, you’ve got to remove the panels from the formwork. You know from the team’s previous post that one of the vertically poured panels did not make it all the way through pouring. Look at that; live edge concrete!

However, the smaller vertically poured panel survived! The results were surprising, as seen abovethis panel had more air gaps than the traditionally poured panel. The students previously thought having formwork on all sides would create more even and consistent panels. But, without an open surface to trowel, the vertically poured panels were subject to more air bubbles.

The typical, horizontally poured panels turned out smooth and even as ever. And just look at that grooved edge!

Diagram showing the corresponding concrete panel surfaces and joints

Next, the concrete panels were attached to the Fabrication Pavilion pin-up wall to test how the joints. The results were inconclusive. Some tongue and groove joints turned out well, while others broke at the edges of the panel. Going forward, the team wants to attempt a shiplap joint for the panels. Also they’d like to make more, smaller test panels to assemble in a minature wall configuration.

Drainage Days

As you can imagine, in the everchanging weather of late, the Test Building site became the town swimming pool. The 18″ deep hole containing the foundations was nearly filled to the brim during the past weeks’ rain. Luckily, the team, Mason, and a mini excavator got out while the sun was shining to install the drainage. The French drain leads from the Cooling Porch, betwixt the foundations, into the forest line.

Rain between two foundations leading to woods

Walk this way

You might have been wondering how one day you might access the 30′ tall, 8′ above ground Test Buildings. Well, you’ll use the steel ships ladder and walkway of course.

Enscape rendering of Test buildings

As of late, the TMBV team students have been designing the fabrication and installation process of the stair and walkway. To detail the stair fabrication process, they partook in a classic rural studio technique; the cartoon storyboard.

cartoon showing assembly of steel stair

Next, the team planned out the order of installation of the walkway and the SIPs structural floors. First, they plan to place and secure one assembled SIPs Test Building floor. Second, place the other Test Building floor, using the walkway steel angle frame to square the two to one another. When everything is properly adjusted, lag screw the steel angle frame to the SIPs floors. Third, place 1″ metal grate on top. Next, place and bolt the stair to the walkway and ground connection. Lastly, site weld the handrails to the exterior face of the steel angle frame. Voila! It’s that easy if you only have a crane!

Wood-Mizer Wonder

And the special bonus; a portable sawmill! Adam Maggard, an Auburn University Forestry and Wildlife professor and Extension Specialist in Forest Systems Management, travels the southeast with the Wood Mizer portable sawmill conducting forestry management research and reaching out to family, forest land owners. Adam collaborates with Auburn Architecture Professor and TMBV colleague David Kennedy and Rural Studio Alum Will McGarity. The three gave the students a Wood-Mizer tutorial as well as an introduction to their research.

Rev. Walker’s Home Project team requested the visitors to help mill some gorgeous tree’s from Rev. Walker’s land. Each student took a turn milling down either the cedar or pecan tree. The students were amazed by the machine and even more amazed that freshly cut cedar is bright, pink. It was a remarkable experience, big thanks to Adam, David, and Rev. Walker from the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team!

Excavation Sensation

Hale’s frozen over! Since then, it has melted, soaked, dried, and soaked again. Classic Hale County. But Myers’ Home team broke ground in the fury of it! You may have heard it here first, folks.

Putting a shovel to the ground takes a lot of prep. First they got the dirt on site conditions. This involved first surveying the area. Though not before saying hello some new, sorry moo, neighbors.

Survey the scene…

To begin, both Myers’ Home and Rev. Walker’s Home teams went to Steve Long’s Survey School at Newbern’s own Morrisette Campus to learn the site level basics.

All learned to set the transit to read site elevations on the story pole — the measuring stick. On site, they will draw a grid to measure points and build a topography map. This team went with 80’ by 90’ at 10’ increments for their site grid.

Recording the first corner of the measured grid on site

A well-informed student home-builder tests their soil strength with the pocket penetrometer. Riley and Judith dug four holes on Myers’ Home site at intervals around the footprint. They then took density measurements at descending points spaced 6” apart. The penetrometer is plunged into the wall of the soil and a reading is taken in tons per sq. ft.

Riley digging a 32″ hole for the pocket penetrometer

The team recorded bearing capacity and observed conditions of the site. This informed a plan for excavation and soil replacement. To make this home stable, they’re building an island of engineered soiled. This raft will be a solid bed of engineered dirt, reliable red soil with a definitive bearing capacity.

After speaking with Joe Farrugia, Rural Studio’s consulting engineer extraordinaire, a plan was in place for site excavation and refilling.

Batter up, batter boards!

The team had to place batter boards though before site excavation. At first glance, batter boards are unassuming scrap pieces. The builders level these to near-perfect tolerance around the site. They hold squared strings marking each edge of the footprint of the building.

With the guidance and helping hands of batter board guru, Steve Long, Judith and Madeline set boards for the excavation crew arriving the very next day!

Can you dig it?

The following morning, the local excavating team made their appearance at sunrise. They removed over 2′ of dirt from the area marked by batter boards. Eight (eight!) truckloads of strong engineered soil then arrived, placed in 6″ lifts in the hole. This new dirt was smoothed to ideal home-building elevation (well above the water table) and left to settle as another wave of rain rolled in.

Ready for the next window of sun, this team will be tamping the new soil, trenching for plumbing and electrical, and preparing for THE SLAB.

Week 2: Hit the Ground Runnin’

This week, the 3rd-years arrived on site, ready to work! They are excited to continue construction on Ophelia’s Home. They have also been introduced to their elective Woodworking and Historical Design Electives. Let’s check in to see how it’s all starting off.

Students meeting with professor and looking at drawings
Morning talks with Professor Emily McGlohn before site work starts

Wood Shop Class

This semester, the 3rd-Year students will continue the cabinetry class with Steve Long. This week, Steve taught the students how to use the tools safely. They also received an assignment to create a cutting board, so keep an eye out for the finished products! This assignment introduces students to the tools in the wood shop before they begin cabinetry.

Next, the students will be researching, designing, and handcrafting cabinetry for Ophelia’s Home. The 2020 Spring semester 3rd-Years laid a great foundation by designing and planning CNC routed millwork for the home. Past projects such as the Fausndale Community Center have used CNC routing for their millwork. CNC routing is a computer-based cutting machine available on Auburn University’s Main Campus, but not at Rural Studio. Therefore, the new group decided to handcraft the cabinets using the tools available on the Rural Studio campus here in Newbern. Throughout the semester, professionals will come and teach the students the basics of millwork so they can hit the ground running.

History Class

Professor Dick Hudgens teaches historic, regional design elective, referred to as “History Class”, here at Rural Studio. The 3rd-Year students take field trips to amazing buildings in the area, which Dick has great knowledge and experience with. Along with learning the history of the buildings through tours, the students sketch the buildings in order to understand them to a greater degree.

front elevation of Magnolia Grove
Magnolia Grove Main House

For their first class, the 3rd-Years travelled to Magnolia Grove in Greensboro. After touring the site, They sketched the main house and kitchen.

On Site

Everyone was excited to begin work on site.

The interior team spent the week counting inventory and beginning the framework. After a lot of headaches, math, and some rocks in the studs, they built and raised three interior walls!

The enclosures team completed sheathing, which is a flat layer of fiber board used to help strengthen the structure of a building and serve as an extra weatherproofing layer. Ophelia’s Home uses ZIP sheathing which also requires the joints to be sealed with ZIP tape.

The MEP team installed blocking in the rafters to seal ventilation from the attic space. This meant applying 2 “x 4” lumber in between the studs and vertical batons to cover any gaps caused by the exterior sheathing when the two elements meet.

Another Stud in the Wall

As promised, the big reveal.

Following the holiday season, Myers’ Home team returned to Newbern. After the annual Spring semester Neckdown week, the students took a look back at the projects’ goals and methods. What is Myers’ Home Project achieving through design and how can it be brought to life?

Generational Flexibility

Above all, Myers’ Home design aims to serve a family over generations by providing means of expansion within a protected shell. The team is also prioritizing material efficiency, buildability, and affordability as they evaluate how to build.

Originally, Myers’ Home implemented a post-frame structural system to create the protective shell essential to generational flexibility. The post-frame method is a simple structure – poles embedded in the ground or a footing with trusses and a simple roof system spanning between. However, the team needed to change aspects of the structural system for it to become sturdy enough for a longlasting, enclosed home.

Personalized Post-Frame

To achieve the desired decade-spanning design, the team customized the poles, trusses, and roofing. The poles were set in above-ground brackets rather than driven into the soil, bolstering longevity. The trusses had become inherently more complex with the addition of an attic. And, the roof system was designed in layers for thermal comfort and durability.

Subsequently, the team diagramed the whole process of construction to understand efficiency and method. As seen above, the team mapped out each step and considered the building timeline implications. As the team reflected on the more complex system and the steps to build, they reached a new conclusion. Post-frame is a fabulous typology, however, it isn’t what Myers’ Home needs.

A New Structure Ahead

But it’s not all over, in fact, it’s just begun! The four students made a quick turn, forget whiplash, and are on their way to Stud Framing City.

Discussing new detailing in Red Barn

Most importantly, the new method is, for the enclosed attic home, quicker than the original post-frame system to build. Scrapping the footings and columns, the home sits on a simple turndown slab allowing the stud walls to be quickly erected on top. Furthermore, and in line with the previous concept of the flexible model home, the only interior walls are for the home’s core.

Also, a quick maneuver with the trusses is underway! The new truss has the same pitch but the entire porch segment is sliced off, creating a heal. A heel? That’s right, and they aren’t talking about feet.

The new and improved attic truss system

Free Porch

Without the rafters or posts to dictate its volume, the porch can boldly go where no porch has gone before. In short, the porch is now free from the overall structure of the home. Now, there is no part of the integral structure which breaks the enclosed protective shell. The porch is no longer a weak point for the generational home. This is more in line with the intentions and goals of the design.

The Zip System shell wraps and shelters the home’s interior

The team is certainly enthusiastic about the new porch design challenge. The porch could touch the house lightly, tie in with a separate system, or stand entirely independent of the home structure. With all these options, the team is narrowing their infinity to perhaps a universe or two.

To inform the porch, the house must begin to speak a language. But what part speaks? Some might say it’s the details that do all the talking. The team dove into drawing details to determine which voice should be heard loudest and followed.

Beginning to define the porch’s language

And that’s where they are now, up in Red Barn drawing details, details, details. 1:1, markers-on-the-floor, shred-‘em-‘til-they’re-right details. They’ve run all around Newbern looking at past projects and local precedents for inspiration. Research in your own backyard!

So keep an eye out, these four can’t wait to show you their corners.

Week 1: All Hands on Deck!

Group of students eats lunch
3rd-Years enjoying lunch on the Great Hall!

Neck-Down Week

The 2021 Spring Semester 3rd-Year’s Rural Studio experience began with Neck-down Week. Neck-down Week is a tradition where Rural Studio students and faculty mend, clean, or maintain local parks, past and ongoing projects, and Morrisette Campus. Neck-Down is a week that requires less brain and more brawn. This week, the 3rd-year group painted, dug holes, completed farm work, laid bricks and much, much more. Neck-down is a great way to be introduced to the spirit of Rural Studio and the tradition of hard work ingrained in the Auburn University Creed.

Welcome to our Studio

Spencer House is where most of the 3rd-Year students live. It also serves as the 3rd-Year Studio, dining hall, and hangout space. Spencer is where all of the design magic happens. During this first week, the 3rd-years divided themselves into three design teams: The Interiors team, Enclosures Team, and “MEP” (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) Team. Each team has its own studio room in Spencer House. Here’s the team breakdown:

Interiors team – Drew Haley, Austin, and Sadie

Enclosures team – Logan, Juyeon, and Ashley

Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing team – Wendy, Kirby, and James

Thanks for following along with the 3rd-year experiences here at Rural Studio! Keep on the lookout for updates from our first week on site.