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Food for Thought: A Journey through Alabama’s Food History, Culture, and Taste

We had an invigorating weekend for our collaborative food event, Food for Thought: A Journey through Food History, Culture, and Taste.

The two-day event was a joint effort between Carolyn Walthall and Barbara Williams of the Newbern Library, Sarah Cole of Abadir’s and the Black Belt Food Project, and Rural Studio Farm. Food for Thought acknowledged our Southern food history and showcased the work of current organizations and people who are moving these traditions forward for future generations.

The public event started on Friday evening at the Newbern Library, where author Emily Blejwas spoke about her book The History of Alabama in Fourteen Foods. The Friends of Newbern Library provided some of the homemade foods featured in Ms. Blejwas’s book.

On Saturday morning, in beautiful fall weather, the event moved to Rural Studio where our Farm manager, Eric, gave tours of the Farm.

Project Horseshoe Farm, the Black Belt Food Project, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System had tables set up around the Farm to share their work, as well as a table offering a seed exchange for visitors.

Finally, the event culminated in a lunch that featured North African food from Sarah and West African cuisine from farmer and chef Halima Salazar of Gimbia’s Kitchen out of Oxford, MS.

The two chefs stand smiling together next to their food

The meal, prepared as it was by the two young chefs with both Southern and African roots, encapsulated the theme of the event: as Ms. Salazar said, “Southern food is African food.”

Guest chef Halima Salazar smiles as she prepares stuffed peppers

Hale-oween

Students and faculty in costume

Here in Hale County, Halloween is the time to work hard and play hard. This year was no different, with a week full of pumpkins, presentations, and of course, costumes. We started the week early, with carving and displaying pumpkins at Red Barn on Tuesday evening. Friends and families from town came to join in on the fun too!

After a long week of rushing to finish costumes and drawings, our students presented for Halloween Reviews on Friday. We had familiar faces return this year, including Marlon Blackwell from Marlon Blackwell Architects; Emilie Taylor Welty, Director of Architecture at Tulane University and Design-Build Manager of the Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design; Emily Neustrom from Material Institute; and the Front Porch Initiative’s Rusty Smith, Betsy Farrell Garcia, and Mackenzie Stagg. We also hosted visitors who came a long way to see the work: Kent Hicks from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Kelly Gregory all the way from San Francisco. Our good friends Timothy and Jeanie Hursley surprised us with a visit and a quick photoshoot of the special day. We can’t wait to see those images soon!

Of course, everyone was dressed for the occasion. Costumes are a must on review day!

To end the day and the week, students and visitors showed off their costumes for each other and our friends in town. This year was tough competition, but Logan Lee was named as pumpkin carving winner, and Rural Studio Bathhouse team won with their Toilet-Trees costumes. Thanks to the Newbern Library and the Newbern Mercantile for wonderful judges and prizes! Check back in on team blogs to see how students move forward next!

Faculty posing in costume
The cast of Jaws and “Sam with SPAM”

Howdy from Hale County!

Hello Dearest Reader,

After several weeks of workshops, we are excited to finally introduce the world to the Rural Studio Bathhouse Team! We are so happy to begin this journey and hope you will follow along with us as we complete this project!

The 4 Team Members pose in front of Red Barn

The Team

Carla Slabber | Chattanooga, TN

Ambar Ashraf | Atlanta, GA

Logan Lee | Decatur, AL

Ashley Wilson | Wetumpka, AL

The Project

As our team’s name implies, we are designing a bathhouse facility for the Morrisette’s campus housing pods. This facility will provide much needed showers, toilets, sinks, and laundry space, for an expected 16-person cohort of 3rd-year students. The team is also considering an addition of a kitchen into the program, which could more closely connect 3rd-year life to Rural Studio Farm.

Through the workshops and for the past few weeks, the team has studied the site and investigated patterns of human movement and interaction, as well as water runoff and location of trees. This has provided a basis for general site placement options, which are still being considered.

The team sketching through site strategies and placement options
Student looks through surveying tripod
Ambar and team surveying the site directly around the existing pod structures

This project continues the Studio’s exploration of mass timber as a more sustainable and appropriate local way to build. Our team has been given the challenge of creating a beautiful and functional bathroom facility out of wood, while also having to manage water, humidity, and ventilation.

Because our project continues the exploration of mass timber, we have spent time studying historical precedents in the area, such as the Folsom Seed Barn, as well as previous wood projects that Rural Studio has completed. These include the Newbern Town Hall and the more recent Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project and Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project. This has opened our eyes to different types of timber construction, including stacked-log construction and layered mass timber assemblies.

Folsom Seed Barn
Historical Precedent – Folsom Seed Barn in Marion, Alabama

As a team, we are continuing the study of layered assemblies, specifically cross-laminated timber and dowel cross-laminated timber. We are also studying rainwater collection strategies and how that can be used in our facility. We continue to look into overall site run-off and how that may affect our project as well.

To begin the process of designing the facility, the team is simultaneously working through plan sketches and study models. These models are designed based on the nature of working with planes of mass timber. They explore both the spatial and structural qualities of this material, as well as how natural light and ventilation can begin to be introduced into these spaces.

Model made with wood
A model made to show structural elements, infill materials, and natural lighting and ventilation strategies
Model made with wood
A model exploring a multi-floor structural system

These models have provided us with a very interesting way of thinking about our project. We are not simply creating a form, but using a system of modules and planes to create spaces. This allows for simple expression of structure and materiality, while also allowing for the addition and subtraction of additional modules.

Moving forward, we look to lock down the project’s placement on our site. We also will continue exploring the possibilities of our project through additional models as we move toward Halloween Reviews.

The team poses in front of Red Barn

Thank you for reading along and we hope that you will continue to follow along with us as we continue this journey together! Be on the lookout for updates soon.

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan

New Cubes on the Block

After weeks of workshops and charrettes, the 5th-year teams have been chosen! The 18×18 House team, and your official new besties are: Naomi Tony-Alabi, Jake Buell, Meagan Mitchell, and Julie DiDeo!

The name 18×18 House comes from the dimensions—18’ x 18’—or the size of two parking spaces. As some US cities are negotiating with developers to swap out parking spaces in exchange for housing units that are affordable, one of our Front Porch Initiative partners approached the faculty team with a challenge to design an affordable unit that could fit within the footprint of two 9’ x 18’ parking spaces. In order to offer enough space for occupants to live comfortably, the team has taken this on as a double-story house.

While the student team does not yet know their client or site, the nature of the 18×18 House holds many possibilities: 

In urban neighborhoods, the scale of the footprint could be a good size for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), independent living spaces that are built on the property of existing homes. These can be built on single-family properties to create more density and housing opportunity. 

In rural neighborhoods, a house this size can be built on family properties that may not have usable space for a larger home. The 18×18 House can provide extra space for a family to grow/maintain the kinship network on sites without large areas for new construction.

As the newest addition to the family of Rural Studio “stair houses,” the team was challenged to have the stair do as much as possible because of how much space it would take from the small footprint. The team studied different types of stairs and spaces in previous Rural Studio homes, testing how different combinations fit within the footprint like puzzle pieces. Each modification to the stair type changes the floor plan completely, resulting in the “plan matrix:” a collection of plan iterations which as a baseline for new explorations to branch out.

Since then, the team has visited several recently completed Rural Studio projects (Myers’ Home, Mrs. Patrick’s Home, and Ophelia’s Home) to begin to understand kinship networks and the scale of living spaces as they are being used here in Newbern. Visits from consultants Joe Burns, Julie Eisenberg, and Hank Koning also had the team work on drawings, mockups, and models to explore different possibilities for the floor plan and the stair.

Soon the 18×18 House team will start to build mockups and continue exploring the challenge of the multi-functional stair, but for now Halloween reviews are steadily approaching. The team is testing iterations with one large question in mind: Can one design be created for a developer where the first and second floors can be flipped easily to allow for sleeping downstairs and living upstairs as a potentially accessible building option? Follow the team’s journey to find out!

Fall Means Walls

One month since we last posted, and our site is practically unrecognizable! It’s been a productive few weeks out in Uniontown, so let’s catch up.

sheathed units

South Street’s newest slab was just itching for some walls, so we started by installing pressure-treated sill plates. Using a powder actuated nail gun, we shot nails through the lumber and concrete, giving our walls a solid connection to the slab. 

sill plate installation

We then framed up all of the exterior walls, attaching them to the sill plates and bracing them back against the ground to keep everything plumb and level. 

After bracing the exterior, we turned our attention to the porch and ramp where there was yet more concrete to be poured. We built formwork for the column base, porch caps, and ramp edge. Over the next couple of days, we hand mixed and filled the formwork. Mixing the concrete ourselves allowed us to work at a slower, more careful pace and finish the pours to our satisfaction.

ramp edge without formwork

Then we were seeing green – green ZIPS panels that is. Thanks to the fine folks at Huber Engineered Woods, we started sheathing our walls to make them more rigid before raising the trusses.

ladder framed by window

And now we’re ready to raise the roof for real! Our trusses are on site and ready to be raised within the next few days. Until then, Auburn’s basketball team won’t be the only ones practicing their crane skills.

trusses being delivered
crane kick meme