Current Projects

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

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

The Second Month: 3rd-Year Edition

The month of September and beyond has been very busy! We have been working hard to finish up final designs and construction documents for Rosie’s Home, traveled with Dick Hudgens to some amazing houses for our History Seminar, and worked through iterations of cabinet details for Rosie’s kitchen in Woodshop Class.

Rosie’s Home

The 3rd-year class made a lot of progress on Rosie’s Home this month. We used the “atmospheres” from our last assignment and previous Rural Studio house materials to help us design different features for Rosie’s Home. We worked through new ways to implement storage, lighting, acoustics, and ventilation from these material studies.

While we designed these details, we had the opportunity to learn and help out with an ongoing project with a visiting team from University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. They are collecting public health data samples for the region on our very own Morrisette campus. During their visit, we collected soil samples to be tested in the UNC lab. This research corresponds to our study of healthy materials and how we at Rural Studio can maximize the health of the systems we supply to our clients. Their studies opened our eyes to how much a functional sewer system contributes to the health of a homeowner, and showed us why this is a problem that must be addressed in rural Alabama. 

Students looking at a septic system outside Red Barn

After a week of working on our details, we presented them to Rural Studio’s own Design-Build Manager, John Marusich. This review revealed to us that rather than making several smaller moves to provide Rosie with solutions for storage, lighting, acoustics, and ventilation, we could make one large move to accomplish all four: manipulation of the ceiling plane.

With this idea in mind, we split into four teams. Each team designed the ceiling profile in a different way to enhance the four previously defined elements. In this design process, we presented our ceiling proposals to our Seattle visitors, Kim Clements and Joe Schneider from JAS Design Build, Jake LaBarre from Miller Hull, the Front Porch Initiative team, and our director Andrew Freear. All of these voices helped us to be more practical and intentional with our decisions. Through this iteration and review process, we found our one big move: vaulting the social space in the home.

Most recently, we began the study of the vault in full-scale format. The first step was drafting 1” = 1’ scale details to study the framing of the vaulted space. Using these details, we created three different mock-up versions. We then built these mock-ups on site in their potential locations. Being able to see their spatial effects in person helped us understand what this vaulted space would truly feel like and how it would change the atmosphere of the space.

drawn details pinned up
Full-scale detail pinup

Wrapping up before Fall Break, we hosted Rural Studio faculty and the 5th-year students on site for a mock-up review. They offered a lot of great feedback and helped us move forward with a clearer design intention. We are so excited to start construction when we get back from break!

Woodshop Class

The 3rd-year class has been designing Rosie’s kitchen and utility space cabinetry this semester. To start, we split into three designated teams: Upper kitchen cabinets, lower kitchen cabinets, and utility storage for the bathroom and laundry room. In our designs, we are focusing on functionality as it relates to our housing affordability research, accessibility for our client, and healthy materials continued from our studio study. While we worked on our designs, Keith and Dylan Cochran of Wood Studio, in Fort Payne, AL, visited Rural Studio to give us a critique of our progress and a demonstration on cabinetry assembly. This workshop demystified the process of creating a functional system of cabinets.

With each group’s cabinet design in the works, we began a mock-up to test important moments and details. We have been finalizing the dimensions and discussing our design of our mock-up model with our professors Steve Long and Judith Seaman. We are so excited to begin constructing our mock-up after Fall Break and ensure the design is successful for Rosie’s Home!

History Seminar

Throughout the past month, we have been to several Antebellum-era houses with our professor, Dick Hudgens. Each week, we tour the home, learn about its characteristic architectural and construction features, and then complete the day by sketching a portion of the home. Dick has been helping us to improve our sketching abilities each week. He teaches us how to correctly proportion a subject and to go from light to dark with our pencils as we draw.

Students sketching an elevation
Students sketching an elevation of Gaineswood

The first week in September, we visited Magnolia Grove in Greensboro which is about 10 miles north of Newbern. Magnolia Grove contains a detached kitchen in the rear, typical of the era. The columns are crooked because the bricks of lower quality refused for the main home were used for the service outbuildings. We sketched the kitchen and cook’s quarters and the front elevation of the home.

The following week, we drove to Demopolis and visited Bluff Hall and Lyon Hall on the Black Warrior River. At Bluff Hall, we learned about brightly colored paints and the immense wealth that existed in this small town. We sketched a historic quarters of enslaved people, a building that rested on the bluff near the main home, contrasting human injustices to the aforementioned wealth of the area. At Lyon Hall, we had the chance to go on the roof and look out over the city of Demopolis. Lyon Hall also features an old family Bible with historical records of the Lyon family that go back several generations.

Students at the top of Lyon Hall
We climbed to the top of the crow’s nest at Lyon Hall in Demopolis

Recently, we traveled to the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion in Tuscaloosa. We learned about gasoliers and rich-colored rugs. We sketched an exterior elevation of the home.

This week, we traveled back to Demopolis and visited Gaineswood. Gaineswood was unlike the other houses we have visited and is unique in Alabama. Gaineswood started as a simple dog-trot cabin, but its owner and architect, Nathan Bryan Whitfield, transformed this home into a grand example of Greek Revival architecture. We studied its expansion throughout the decades and looked at its complex roof lines.

In addition to having us travel to and study these historic homes, Dick also assigned us a new watercolor project. This semester, we are charged to make our own natural watercolor pigments from regional sources. To kick-start this, local textile artist Aaron Sanders-Head, of Greensboro, came to Morrisette Campus to help us extract our pigments. After we had a dynamic palette of colors, Dick assigned us to paint a tree to practice our watercolor techniques. We will continue our watercolor activities in the next couple weeks to prepare for our final watercolor project, a Beaux-Arts painting of a construction detail.

Stay Tuned

We are looking forward to starting construction on Rosie’s site in the next couple days and for the Halloween Reviews in a few weeks. Stay tuned to see our progress and what our costumes will be!