Those pour, pour foundations!

Live from on top freshly poured foundations, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team! This week the students, with a little help from their friends, completed their Test Building foundations. This included installing rebar and pouring concrete. Let’s get straight to those action shots, huh?

Rebar Retreat

First, Livia’s all time favorite activity, the cutting of the rebar. The team cut sections of rebar for the bottom rebar mat, the top rebar mat, and the vertical pieces that hold the two together.

Next, it’s install time. Comprised of number 5 rebar, the bottom mat is a regular grid. The north-south and east-west pieces are joined with rebar ties. The vertical pieces were hammered into the ground at a consistent elevation. This elevation is 1” lower than the future slab surface. These vertical pieces support the top mat, comprised of number 4 rebar. The top mat only runs between future column locations.

With the rebar installation completed, the TMBV team prepared for the concrete pour. Rowe built bridges to span the foundation excavation holes. The bridges will be used to shovel and trowel the concrete in the middle of the foundations. Jeff helped test bridge durability. Livia prepped her waterproof suit, she’s quite messy and will need to be hosed down with the shovels at the end of the day. Cory practiced his elevation calling as the master of the transit.

The Big Pour

If you find yourself wondering, why do these cute, little buildings need such an intricate foundation? Well, while the volumetric form of the Test Buildings appear small, they are actually quite monumental. Reaching 25’ tall and lifted 7′ 6″ off the ground, the test buildings experience substantial overturning forces which are counteracted by the foundations.

“We get by with a little help from our friends!”

With shovel-armed 5th-years, Steve long calling shots, and Andrew Freear on the chute, the pouring began. Everyone helped move the concrete around the excavation hole until it was about level with the grade pins. Grade pins are orange-painted, vertical pieces that are set to 1/4″ under the slab surface height. When the concrete reaches the grade pins evenly, Rowe and Cory began taking elevation measurements.

In order to deem the elevation, “Good!” the students meticulously move and smooth the concrete. Next, troweling begins once several spot measurements meet the elevation mark. While Livia and Jeff began finishing the surface of the west foundation, the others moved on to the east foundation. Pour, level, rinse, repeat! It is actually a good idea to rinse your shovel in between uses it isn’t ruined by the concrete…

Like most concrete pours, the fashionable ones at least, the TMBV ordered 10% extra concrete. However, the concrete suppliers do not typically take back the extra if it isn’t used. Because all that concrete has got to go somewhere, the TMBV team built formworks that match the size of the concrete scrap they already have. Therefore, they will have plentiful pieces for the design of their Cooling Patio. In the meantime, the mini-slab acts as an executive parking spot for Andrew Freear’s sky-blue Honda FIT.

The Finished Products

Completed east and west foundations
Reserved for Andrew Freear (spikes to be installed later)

Would you look at that—two beautiful foundations ready for curing. And an extra mini slab! The TMBV team could not have completed this feat without the help from the 5th-year students and faculty. The pour went smoothly with no catastrophic events! Next up, construction-wise, the team will install drainage and the steel structure. As always, thanks for stopping by and stay tuned!

f i n

Another Brick in the Pad

New year, new faces! Throughout the Fall semester, the 5th-year, 3rd-year, and graduate students leant helping hands to the Horseshoe Courtyard Team. Spring semester Neckdown week introduced the team to new 3rd-year students. Check out their blog ( 20k Ophelia’s Home) to meet them all! Tasks for Neckdown week at Horseshoe Courtyard included pouring concrete bench footings, cleaning up the site, expanding the brick pad, and sheathing the porch walls.

Since the weather was so great mid-week, the team was able to break up the pours into different days. The next step for the benches is drilling and installing threaded rods into the concrete. The threaded rod will attach to the steel structure which holds the bench seats.

Less Puzzling, More Sanding

The brick pad keeps growing by the day! It’s reached the grinder pump. This allowed the team to install the grinder pump cover structure and infill around it with sand and custom bricks.

In the last few weeks, the team has been keeping track of how “straight” the bricks are being laid. To do this the team pulls string lines to create grids or guides that ensure the bricks are not way out of square by the time the bricks reach the last corner. This sometimes meant going back and straightening some of the already sanded bricks, and choosing which lines to prioritize since these are beautiful but imperfect bricks.

Sheathing the Porch

image of porch with plywood walls
(For the moment being please disregard the rope strands hanging past the screens, will soon be trimmed!)

During Neckdown, the team and helpers added plywood to the porch stud walls. The plywood will be where the exterior gypsum attaches. There will be a set of doors, and a transom window installed on the East side of the porch ( image on the left). The doors will directly connect the interior of the building with the porch, and bring some natural light into the main hallway of the building.

Reverend Walker’s Home

Hi there! Back for more, are you? Well, if you were intrigued enough to return to this humble little blog of ours, we should probably give you the low down on what Rev. Walker’s home is all about. As mentioned in our last post, our project is a continuation of the research started by the 2019-2020 outreach master’s team, who were interested in taking a pole barn structure and applying it to rural housing, as it is an efficient and easy building technique. This, combined with our own observation of trends in rural homeownership, in particular those of expansion, has led us to explore a starter home, completely separated from, but sheltered by a single-source, kit-of-parts pole barn. What is a pole barn? And why would we separate it from the structure of our home? We’re glad you asked!

Typically, pole barns use large, widely-spaced wooden posts buried straight into the ground to carry trusses supporting a large clear-span roof. What can often be found underneath is a slab on grade or merely a dirt floor. These structures can be seen all over Hale County, usually serving as manufacturing buildings, churches, or simply just for storage. Well, that’s where our challenge comes in, dear reader – to make this building type function well as a home.

components of a pole barn

Because this technique minimizes the use of materials, it can cover swaths of space previously unachievable by past 20K homes for the same price. By having the home begin as an enclosure for a single person or couple, we can dedicate the rest of our resources to providing the largest roof and slab possible, sheltering and providing a sturdy base for future expansion. This is ideal as oftentimes additions compromise the original home’s structure as multiple roof and foundation systems are tied together.

Diagram of house connections
points where additions tend to fail

By having the structure of the home completely separated from the pole barn, the owner doesn’t have to learn how to add onto a less conventional post frame home and the overarching roof can remain untouched, maintaining its integrity. The pole barn can then take the brunt of the weather that would typically age a home and can protect new connections if the house grows.

Having two independent structures also preserves the quick and easy nature of the pole barn, allowing all of the components to be purchased off-the-shelf from a manufacturer without having to fuss too much with modifying it to have residential details and tolerances. This is important to us as we want this home to be as accessible to buy and simple to build as possible.

weather cant keep us off site

This ability to put up a roof fast also gives us a dry place under which to work without weather delays or breaks (remember: “healthy body, healthy mind”), as well as covering potential expansions by the owner so there’s no need to rush.

In our scheme, the approximately 500-square-foot home is covered by a 1,900-square-foot, 5-bay pole barn. The difference in size results in a luxury of outdoor space, where at the start it can serve as a large porch – the primary social space in rural communities. The home is broken up into two volumes arranged into a dogtrot scheme – one with all the rooms necessary to make a viable home and the other left blank to be used as the owner sees fit.

Sketch of interior loft space
View of the loft from below

This not only starts to define outdoor rooms, but also implies infilling between the volumes as the first move of expansion. Additionally, the monopitch shape of the home’s roof gives clues towards expansion, hinting that one can march the same roof pitch between the volumes and come off the high side of the home to infill the front. This extra initial height in the home also provides opportunities for a loft space, which can serve as storage or a sleeping space and help with ventilation.

Rendering of Reverend Walker's Home on site
Rendering of the home on its site

If you’ve made it to the end of this long but passionate discourse about our explorations, I commend you. But for now I must leave you, as my four underlings are returning to site with greater frequency to prepare the area for construction, but with an alarming lack of extra scratches. Something must be done about this.

Image of Taterhead the site cat

Until next time – Taterhead the Cat

New Kids on the Block

Rural Studio welcomed its newest group of 3rd-year students to Newbern last week! Many precautions are being taken and there have been several rounds of testing to ensure a healthy and happy start to the new semester. This group will continue construction on 20K Ophelia’s Home. They are eager to begin and are diving into the process and planning of construction. The students are excited to keep up the great work the past cohorts completed. They are also looking forward to adding their own stamp to Ophelia’s home.

New 3rd Years sit on the steps of the Great Hall.
Top Row: Logan Lee, Austin Black, James Foo
Middle Row: Juyeon Han, Kirby Spraggins, Ashley Wilson
Bottom Row: Wendy Webb, Drew Haley Smith, Sadie McIntyre

3rd-Year Who’s Who

An Introduction with their hometowns, favorite activities, quotes, and 3rd-year superlative.

Most likely to make a Tiktok
Ashley Wilson
Wetumpka, AL
Likes to play guitar and Animal Crossing

Best mustache at Rural Studio” (self-proclaimed)
Austin Black
Birmingham, AL
Likes to cook and listen to podcasts

Most likely to clean in her spare time
Drew Haley Smith
Auburn, AL
Likes to knit, sew, and play the piano
“Hello, hello! :)”

Most likely to fix the plotter
James Foo
Marietta, GA
Likes to play video games

Most likely to be a ninja
Juyeon Han
Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea / Montgomery, AL, USA
Likes to bead rings and take photographs
“So sad”

Most likely to be running late
Kirby Spraggins
Southlake, TX
Likes to run and play the guitar
“I feel like Bob the Builder.”

Most likely to make a reference to The Office
Logan Lee
Decatur, AL
Likes to hike, eno, and do anything outside
“I miss my dog.”

Most likely to lock the doors
Wendy Webb
Hazel Green, AL
Likes to watch reruns of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix
“*groaning noises*”

Most likely to go home on the weekends
Sadie McIntyre      
Rogersville, AL
Likes to watch Netflix
“That’s a future Sadie problem.”

Our MVP’s

These two have quickly captured the hearts of the third-year group!

Most likely to sit for a pretzel
Newbern, Al
Likes to roam around town and hang out with Brinda

Most likely to steal items from the porch
Newbern, Al
Likes to chew bag chairs left on the porch

Group of students presents findings during pin-up on the porch of Spencer house.
The group already hard at work planning the course of action for Ms. Ophelia’s home.

Thanks for reading our blog! Keep on the lookout for new posts and exciting updates. We can’t wait to share our semester with you!

Up We Go!

Hey! The gang’s all here, welcome back.

Myers' Home team at a mockup
from left: Riley Boles, Madeline Ray, Robbin Reese, Judith Seaman

A dignified home is not a luxury. For the past 27 years, Rural Studio has been refining an architectural approach to affordability and durability in housing of the rural South. The Myers’ Home team is working to make that home last for generations and changes to fit the family within. This is being pursued through interiorized expansion, capacity for multiple bedroom types, and varying states of material finish.

A cycle of generations through the home

Can a dignified home be built to be serve a client, their children, even grandchildren, through inheritance? Myers’ Home team has been taking a look at how homes expand in rural contexts like Hale County, and there’s quite a tendency to grow. Homes spread to fill the property with additions built as a family is able. The team looked to local precedent like Jim Walter Homes, a regional kit home similar to Sears Roebuck homes, that acted as a shell. The unfinished interior can be designed and changed by the owner, fitting their needs.

Both 2020-2021 5th-Year student project teams are exploring comprehensive solutions to the issues that arise from ad-hoc expansions. Rather than attaching new structure to a starter home, often a kit-type or mobile home, the team wants to know how expansions might be contained in the shell of the one, original structure. Dubbed the shell expansion method, Myers’ Home team is designing a protective home that can change within the boundaries of the original structure to accommodate varying family demographics and needs over generations. One of the most exciting developments for the studio thus far though has been, *drumroll*, the attic truss. That’s right folks, a two-story home. Want more space for the same footprint? Go up!

The attic truss system and resultant second floor space

But how to begin? The four Myer’s Home teammates determined what conditions were imperative to the home’s function. In terms of a flexible generational home, spaces that can host a variety of activity and establish thresholds of social and private space through the home.

To reach the attic a stair was needed, this created a limited framework to operate within. It needed to align with the trusses above to meet building code for enough head height above the landing. Centering the stair gave easiest access to both sides of the attic for the most flexible room solutions and was the most accessible location through changes to the surrounding rooms.

The home has thresholds that shift between social and private space

With these in mind, plans were drawn up, tested and re-tested. Quick mockups of different furniture layouts in the Red Barn determined appropriate sizes of rooms depending on Fair Housing Act (FHA) standards and varying furniture sizes.

Early plan sketches before refining stair placement

The porch has also been a source of great debate. More mockups were constructed to test options seen in past Rural Studio projects as well as the context of the rural South. After getting a feel for the options, the team moved towards Stress Test in November with some decisions to make and plenty to discuss!

The teams’ weeks were interspersed with reviews with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Julie Eizenberg, Marlon Blackwell, and our own Auburn faculty. Through these critiques we came to two leading contenders for the plan and section. Both are post frame homes roughly 900 square feet with a 10/12 pitch roof. Both homes also contained a clear bedroom, and a “room without a name,” one that could begin with or without a dividing wall. It could serve, alongside the attic, as the first step in interiorized expansion for shifting family needs.

Two of the final plan options as 1 or 2 bedroom options following Stress Test, their last stand

The plans made it through Stress Test nearly whole, yahoo! But the review following brought to light holes in the plan and a whole new approach. With Marlon Blackwell, Jake LaBarre, Emily Taylor, and Emily McGlohn, the team came to the conclusion that both options were just too darn prescriptive! For true flexibility there has to be more than one flexible space, the team ought to make the whole house shift-able! Back to the drawing board they go, to find the flex.

The most constraining part of the previous plans were the walls. So how can the prescription be replaced with prediction? Ding ding, optional walls! How else? Group the utilities in a core! Take a look at just how that all works together…

Myers’ Home is fairly small scale, clocking in around 900 square feet inside with a 6 foot porch. The short interior width of 24 feet allows that amazing attic truss to span with no load-bearing interior walls. By moving electrical, plumbing, and mechanical to the bathroom, stair, and exterior walls, the team can treat the interior walls as transient. Imagine the possibilities! The home can be built as a 1:1 model of sorts, exterior and core block. Rooms can be defined by inserting walls after experiencing the “shell” space, as builder or client.

Two 2-bedroom plan options for the latest home iteration

The team’s been defining these optional spaces as “rooms without names,” space that can change purpose and space should the family need it. More free space though is the attic. Able to hold 2 more bedrooms up to FHA standards, it also slings plumbing hookups to the attic space as a vertical extension of the core below.

The attic space being filled and used over time

The 1:1 model method, the protected shell and core, and the house-length porch all amount to something wonderful. With the flexible plan, the home can begin with one, two, the, or no defined bedrooms. Our clients needs two to begin, walls can be placed in whichever of the options work best for their lifestyle. They may want a larger living area to one side of the home. They may prefer the entire bar spanning the porch remain social. They might enjoy both bedrooms catching the sunrise on the east side. This house can accommodate.

An interactive study model with movable walls and furniture.

The team then met with the client, Mr. and Mrs. Myers, and presented an interactive model to show how easily walls can be added shifted. They analyzed the site and began to consider the soil, the trees, and first steps towards getting their hammers swinging and boots in the mud.

Zooming with Joe Farrugia to discuss structural systems

Following these turns of events, the realities of detailing and structure began falling into place. After Thanksgiving the team put the pedal to the metal and jumped into attic truss engineering with Joe Farrugia. With Joe, they are learning the physics and engineering process of a manufactured truss to design their own for production. This involves testing limits of different grades of Southern Pine and various dimensions of lumber. What fun, thanks, Enercalc! They’ve also worked on roof assemblies with Paul Stoller of AtelierTen in Sydney, Australia, and some active systems planning.

Outdoor pinup at the fabrication pavilion with Andrew and Steve

All of these conversations kept on going over the holidays to keep the wheels turning into the New Year. As 2021 tumbled in and work ramped up in Newbern, a review of projects was in order to gauge next steps in design. In retrospect the team synthesized old and new observations of the home and made some exciting new conclusions. Stay tuned for a structural surprise!