Introducing Our Institutional Partners

2018 Partner Meeting in Newbern, Alabama

The mission of the Front Porch Initiative is to promote home ownership in rural communities. That’s a big goal, and we can’t do it all on our own. So, we’ve built a coalition of institutional partners who offer their expertise and help support our work. We have collaborators in industry, not-for-profit, and government sectors. In this post, we’d like to introduce you to a few of our institutional support partners.

For three years, Fannie Mae, a leading source of financing for mortgage lenders, has been supporting the Initiative’s “Test and Learn” plan, which will develop home building documentation and study the social and economic impact of increased rural home ownership on local communities. The documentation provides detailed drawings and resources for building four of the 20K Homes, what we call our product line homes. Each product line home is built to maximize resilience and efficiency while supporting health and equity among rural homeowners.

The Initiative is collaborating with another finance industry partner, Wells Fargo, to improve home ownership among citizens in West Alabama. Wells Fargo, a leading financial services company, is providing research and development support for continuing work at Rural Studio, focusing specifically on ways to increase home ownership among African American residents.

In addition to industry partners, the Initiative has a multi-faceted collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development department to help build housing in rural America. Recently, USDA awarded us a Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) grant to provide enhanced technical assistance to Mountain T.O.P., a faith-based volunteer program based in Grundy County, Tennessee. Previously, Mountain T.O.P. focused on repairing homes in the rural Cumberland Plateau area, but with this grant, they will also begin building new construction homes for local residents.

USDA has also temporarily assigned Meghan Walsh, Senior Architect for USDA Rural Housing Service, to support the Initiative. Walsh brings expertise in both architecture and mortgage financing, which will help promote a sustainable model of home procurement that recognizes and accommodates the needs of rural home buyers.

In the coming months, our blog will feature these partners and others who are helping us achieve the goal of rural home ownership, so check back and read about our progress!

Let’s take a line for a walk

On and Beyond the Chair continues while students draw remotely in this new virtual learning version of the chair class.

Today the students begin a new fun and relaxing daily exercise “taking a line for a walk around their chair.” For the next two weeks students will spend only ten minutes each day drawing with a pen on a 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper.

A line is a dot that went for a walk. – Paul Klee

The assignment encourages students to make quick decisions while continuously drawing a line. They must keep as small an interval as possible between drawing and looking at the chair. These drawings will also become a diary of reflections during this emotional time of social distancing.

Sketching From Home

watercolor with no redline of Kenworthy Hall
Kenworthy Hall by Daniel Burton

This week’s History Class focused on Kenworthy Hall in Marion, Alabama. Because 3rd-year students are unable to physically visit the home, Dick has provided them with HABS (Historic American Building Survey) drawings of each building. Students are using these drawings–predominantly elevations–to draft their own versions. Here is an assortment of this week’s watercolor sketches:

Asparagus Crowns and Social Distancing

A closer view of asparagus crowns set in a row

Coming off spring break, Auburn University changed all of their classes to be taught from a distance in order to facilitate social distancing. As such, Rural Studio Farm’s farm manager, Eric, suddenly found himself without his usual work force, meaning there was more work than a single person could realistically do for normal operations. Most of the food out in the field can still be harvested and frozen for later use, but Eric has shifted his focus away from such heavy production toward work that is more sustainable, as it will probably be August at the earliest that Eric will have student workers again.

Planting cover crops and building soil has become a major focus, as has planting more perennials, like scallions and artichokes, which will produce more in the future and require less maintenance overall. One of these is asparagus. Eric planted 100 asparagus crowns (which look like spaghetti or deep-sea squids), working the soil down to a depth of at least a foot and planting them about five inches deep in trenches. On average one can figure that four crowns will produce enough for one person, and each crown can produce for 15 to 20 years.

After only a single week, the new shoots are over 20 inches tall—that’s about four inches per day.

A newly emerged asparagus shoot

Virtual Studio

This week Reggie’s home has been transitioning to working remotely for the upcoming weeks. Although we are sad that we won’t be able to work in Red Barn we are happy we can continue with our design development. This means that our week began by getting settled into our new “studios”.

After talking to Reggie we decided that we would move forward with the “two porch” scheme because we can have the same qualities as the dogtrot scheme, but build less. This scheme allows for a “front porch” that would function as the outdoor kitchen where Reggie sees himself spending most of his time and a “back porch” that would function as his tool storage area as well as a space where DJ (Reggie’s dog) could be let out, but be contained. We continued to do sketches to see how these two porches relate to the interior of the home and what the levels of enclosure would be required to distinguish all the spaces.

Reggie's Home team zoom call
Team Zoom call to discuss sketches

After discussing the sketches, we decided it would be a good time to begin creating 3D models of our plans to help visualize the spaces we are creating on site. While doing this we plan to keep in mind the moments we’ve been trying to create from our past schemes: an interstitial space where Reggie could work, a bedroom and desk with specific views to the exterior, and an enclosed outdoor space for DJ. Having a clear idea of what we want these moments to be will allow us to have a simple design that is made complex by the way it is occupied.

Until next week!

Reggie’s Home