Current Projects

Make A List, Check It Twice

Welcome to Summer in blazing Hale County, Alabama! The heat and humidity have set in and the team is hard at work preparing to break ground. Before we can start, we have a few things to smooth out: details, deconstruction, and a mock-up. 

The next steps are to begin expanding the current foundation footings and replacing the columns. First, we will need to deconstruct some of the pavilion as it currently stands. In order to understand the deconstruction/reconstruction process better, we have created a storyboard of the process, sketching out each step, while also showing where each piece of equipment will be on site at each stage.

students working
The team sketching out the construction process

In preparation, we have been regularly meeting with our structural engineer, Joe Farruggia, to finalize structure calculations. We also recently met with JAS Design Build (Seattle, WA) to get feedback on the framing model that we have been utilizing to understand the process of framing our structure and had a visit from architect Dan Wheeler (Chicago, IL).

Meeting with the JAS Design Build team about framing strategies

JAS Design Build’s team confirmed that we are on the right track and offered some suggestions on how to manage a cantilever using lookouts that extend out to help reach the “knife’s blade edge” detail. Meanwhile, Dan challenged us to study how the steel skirt at the base of the column will come together and how the lighting design of the base relates to the overall concept.

Reviewing designs with Dan Wheeler

Soon we will construct a large-scale mock-up (which is a right-of-passage here at Rural Studio) that helps the team practice details at a one-to-one scale. We have begun to finalize the details of the finished roof and ceiling materials. The mock-up gives us an opportunity to test the metal and new details, while also practicing pouring concrete footings, building a column, and testing lighting.

Tune back in next time for an update from the team. Until then, stay hydrated, it’s hot out here!

Summer Shenanigans

The Patriece’s Home team, affectionately known around the Studio as the “Stairs Team,” just hasn’t gotten enough of Hale County! Now college grads and no longer students, Adam, Laurel, Daniel and Lauren picked right back up and finished their details mock-up as “leftovers.” The team is using their mock-up to test metal shade devices for windows and the articulation of their wood-clad porches.

After hunting through differing foundation types for their home, the team talked to Tyler from C & T Excavating Inc. and is now moving forward with a plan to sculpt the site with engineered fill for their slab-on-grade foundation.

Patriece’s Home has been focusing on the landscape opportunities in their home’s design. They are not only using natural, space-making tools to ground the house on the site, but to shape and protect areas of outdoor activity, such as play, sitting, parking, and driving. The team Zoomed with Emily Knox, a landscape architecture professor from Auburn University, to discuss their design for siting home, how the landscape design can extend across the whole site, and both existing and potential “materials” (trees, shrubs, grasses) for the site.

Thankfully, the team had their mock-up and details ready to be reviewed because our friend and consultant Dan Wheeler (from Wheeler Kearns Architects in Chicago, IL) showed up again! Dan had an intense design discussion with the team about the wood cladding on the interior and exterior of the home. He left the group with lots of tips and a positive direction toward establishing a character for the wood details. Let’s see what the team decides!

And because the team is itching (literally, the mosquitoes are waking up) to start work on site, they completed their batter boards for their excavation date set in two weeks! They will be in the business of purchasing, perfecting, and tying loose ends as they eagerly await this date. So wait for the next blog post when the team will be playing in the dirt!

Until then, here is a gallery of some Hale County summer shenanigans!

Can You Dig It?

Last time we talked, the team was preparing to get into the ground, so let’s dig in!

As soon as the team returned from graduation, we wrapped up our mock-up construction. We then stepped back and reflected on our details, figuring out what worked and what needs improvement. It was exciting to get a sneak peek at what’s to come for the actual units. Simultaneously, we started site prep!

First up on site, batter boards! (The drawing doesn’t stop in studio people!) Batter boards are a way for us to draw in real life. Each colorful string pulled across our site represents a line in one of our CAD drawings. Using a combination of strings and wooden stakes, we’re able to create a very precise footprint of the units on the ground. This helps us know exactly where to excavate the trenches for our footings as well as the final height of the CMU block wall.

Speaking of footings, we determined the appropriate footing size for the porch’s 14’ overhang. Pouring a really robust footing allows us to expose the thin “spaghetti” trusses marching along the porch header while still taking into account the uplift that may occur at the columns.

With all of our site prep up and going, we’re ready to dig. Cross your fingers and toes, and with any luck, we’ll be up and out of the ground in no time. Until then, over and out.

very cute kittens
The team also gained a few helping paws on site. Meet Okra, Duo, and Mouse!

Rural Studio Farm Pilots New CSA Program

Rural Studio Farm is piloting a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for faculty, staff, and students!

The CSA model has been practiced for decades to support small-scale farmers, build community, and strengthen local food systems. In this model, participating members receive a share of whatever produce is available each week. Members experience the seasonal pulses and fluctuations of the Farm’s produce, a process that teaches members more about the natural cycles of food production, as well as potentially introducing new fruits and vegetables to members. Rural Studio Farm’s 30-week-long CSA is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy local, fresh, chemical-free vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers while directly supporting the operations of the Farm and the greater mission of Rural Studio.

Since students and participating staff have had a hand in growing all of our produce, the CSA initiative completes the experience of food production by directly placing the produce into the hands of the producers.

The Farm has been so successful, with no signs of slowing growth, that we are now producing more food than we can use ourselves. Participating in the CSA will also help reduce food waste, as well as provide extra support to Rural Studio Farm, allow for crop diversification—an important element of our polyculture model—and allow students and staff access to food that is difficult to find in this region.

We at Rural Studio practice farming methods that build a resilient and sustainable agricultural system. That means that we produce food without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides while supporting a more natural, holistic ecological system and stewarding natural and human resources. We utilize organic farming practices like being completely no-till, cover cropping, composting, companion planting, supporting beneficial insects, and crop rotation, all to help build and support a productive soil microbiome and to build back some of our depleted soil fertility.

Some of the new crops we are growing this year specifically for the CSA are kohlrabi, Swiss chard, shallots, lemon grass, fennel, leeks, tomatillos, specialty peppers, ground cherries, radicchio, artichokes, Chinese cabbage, microgreens, and French melons.

If our CSA pilot program proves successful, we plan on extending it to the broader community next year!

Hello, Habitat!

Last month, the Front Porch team attended the Habitat for Humanity International 2022 Affiliate Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In collaboration with two of our long-time field test partners, Front Porch Initiative presented work from those partnerships in conference sessions. The Front Porch team also hosted a booth with our research sponsor Fannie Mae to share our housing affordability research with attendees visiting the exhibit hall. Members of the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team encouraged passers-by to stop and learn about our work, showed off the prototype models, and, and fielded questions about the pilot investigating sweat equity valuation.

Interested attendees stopped by the booth to learn more about Front Porch Initiative and our work with partners across the Southeast.

Mark Grantham, Executive Director of Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity (AOHFH); David Hinson, CADC Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research; and Betsy Farrell Garcia presented ongoing research on high performance housing affordability. In 2018 and 2019, AOHFH constructed two of the Buster’s House prototypes in Opelika to beyond-code energy standards and a resilience standard. Energy consumption data from those houses, as well as a third AOHFH house built to local code, is being collected and evaluated relative to the construction details, construction cost, and usage predicted by energy models. Conclusions drawn from the collected data informs choices about where investments in improved performance produce the most return on investment. The engaged and knowledgeable audience eagerly shared valuable feedback from their experience building to high-performance standards and welcomed the findings on where best to invest in upgrades that return savings on energy performance.

Mark, David, and Betsy presented research on houses constructed in Opelika, AL, and results from the ongoing energy usage.

With Carmen Smith, Executive Director of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), and Darwin Gilmore, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development for Chipola College, Mackenzie Stagg presented an innovative collaboration born out of a shared interest in increasing equitable access to high-performance housing in a rural community. CAHFH is currently building four Front Porch Product Line houses on a site in Marianna, Florida, a town still recovering from Hurricane Michael more than two years after the storm. Front Porch initiative supplied the designs for the homes and has provided technical assistance during the project’s development and construction. Students from the Chipola College Building Construction Technology program supplement volunteer labor while earning clock-hour credit toward a degree and construction certification. These high-performance, resilient houses will increase equitable housing access, facilitate continued disaster recovery efforts, and grow the skilled workforce needed locally. Affiliates attending the session participated enthusiastically and displayed great interest in building similar partnerships in their area.

Front Porch Initiative connected with many mission-aligned Habitat affiliates interested in expanding equitable, affordable homeownership while in Atlanta, and we hope to establish new partnerships with organizations across the country. We appreciate the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team’s invaluable presence on the exhibit floor. Together with our partners’ incredible dedication to collaboration, we continue to reach a wide audience for the work of Rural Studio.

L to R: Tamara Dourney (CAHFH), Pete Fulton (CAHFH), Scott Phelps (Chipola College), Darwin Gilmore (Chipola College), Mackenzie Stagg (AURS), Sidra Goldwater (Fannie Mae), Carmen Smith (CAHFH), Betsy Farrell Garcia (AURS), Rusty Smith (AURS), and Jennie Ann Dean (CAHFH).

We look forward to the next Affiliate Conference!