Myers’ Home

Mains, Drains, and Automobiles

Myers’ Home team is on the run! They’re setting utilities, laying plumbing, and picking up materials as construction ramps up!

Rainbows and lightning galore

These folks had a review last week with Jake LaBarre to refine the building set contents. (Kudos to Riley, emerging expert in construction drawing formatting!) These are drawings that the team references during construction for just about everything. With updated documents in hand, they’re dodging rain and wind for spots of sun on site.

Meeting with Jake LaBarre, from Newbern to Seattle!

Power Trip

To power their saws, charge up those drills, and keep the tunes playing the team had to set up a temporary power pole. With Judith driving the trailer as Bobcat Delivery Girl and Madeline manning the joysticks on site, the pole was set and power nearly ready to connect.

Pipe dreams? Not so much.

Before the foundation slab can be poured, utilities are run, gravel leveled, and formwork is set. To begin work on utilities, more batter boards were constructed in order for the plumbing and electrical to be properly placed. These boards sit between the batter boards which mark the footprint of the home, they mark where pipes will emerge from the slab.

The team marked the utility lines on the tamped earth and began trenching for, first, plumbing and, above that, electrical conduit.

Next, they simultaneously begin dry fitting the joints and noting the lengths of pipe needed in the trench (cut a little long!). Throughout this they sloped the pipe in the trench and checked with the site level to ensure proper drainage.

Seal the deal

Following a successful drainage test, the team began assembling and gluing small length pipes, the shower run, washer, and toilet. After that, they dry-fit to the main drain. They triple-checked the pipes, marked for re-fitting, and primed purple. Finally, the team began sealing with the bright blue plumbing glue.

Madeline and Riley marking and gluing pipe segments

With everything in place, they began re-leveling and aligning the pipes with the position of future stud walls. As sunset approached the trenches were finally re-filled and the new utilities tucked in for the night.

One slab, comin’ right up!

The final steps before that long-awaited concrete truck’s journey to Newbern are gravel and formwork. The home’s footprint will be completed in two pours, one upcoming for the 24′ x 40′ interior, and another for the 8′ x 40′ porch slab.

The house, as of late.

In the coming days, the team will be cutting and setting the formwork for the slab and ordering gravel to level the area before the blessed arrival of sweet, sweet concrete. Hang tight to get the scoop! Over and out.

I Just Gantt Do It, Captain!

Want to get the low-down on details for Myers’ Home? Look no further! These kids have broken ground, but that doesn’t mean their work stops in studio. The team has focused attention on details the last few weeks with site work interspersed.

Details are drawn full scale, reviewed, drawn again, and again

Draw it big!

In true Rural Studio fashion, every inch and corner is designed with intention and iteration. While the first aim is to keep the home warm and dry, these layers can meet all sorts of ways. It’s these joints that will also give the house a language. It can read as planes, solids, thin, thick, anyway through the treatment of joints and surfaces.

Drawing details full scale allows the team to grasp the size of the materials they’re specifying. The team can trace vapor and water barriers through the wall sections to find gaps.

Breaking the Shell

Myers’ Home is a protected shell, as such any punctures must be deliberate. The exposed edges created when the shell is pierced are strengthened against environmental elements. To evaluate the layered seals to the punctures, the team has drawn every opening connection in the home.

Myers’ Home team is currently designing a window system that is more durable and efficient than common windows in this context. This system will combine a fixed window for lighting, smaller fiberglass operable window for ventilation, and a window AC unit with a universal sleeve.

Ventilation, light, and AC concentrated to puncture points

Grouping these elements reduces punctures in the shell to single pre-fabricated unit that will be produced with precision in a shop, like cabinetry. A shop-built cypress “box” will hold the pieces together and be far more dimensionally stable than typical stud framing.

A review of the shop-built window system with Dan Wheeler

The team reviewed these details with Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects and adjusted accordingly. Next up, mockup! The students will build the refined window unit in the shop with the intention that it be used in Myers’ Home. Another 1:1 mockup is being designed as a small scale replica of the home’s details. It is a reference library where the team will test flashing, siding, and roof details.

The Big Move

To begin regular site work Myers’ Home team needs to know just what they’ll be doing each week. This means writing and updating a Gantt Chart, the comprehensive calendar of the project’s construction.

A weekly schedule annotated by the team
Myers’ Home Gantt chart in Red Barn, edited by week with site work and order details

They also must identify just what tools they’ll need. Building process is drawn from surveying through drying in — when the home is enclosed and weather-sealed. And in cartoon form!

Meanwhile, tools have been inventoried and assigned to newly organized tool trailers. If nothing else, a team can control the state of its tool trailer.

Myers’ Home is leaping into a fresh Hale County spring with high hopes! Until next time.

Madeline, Judith, and Riley: jumping for joy.

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.

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.

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!