Rural Studio Blog

Rural Studio Receives 2022 National Design Award in NYC

We are still processing the news of being a recipient of one of the 2022 National Design Awards. Rural Studio Director Andrew Freear and Associate Director Rusty Smith attended the gala along with Acting Dean Karen Rogers from the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) and Justin Miller, Head of the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture (APLA). They walked the red carpet, and when the ceremony turned to awardees, Andrew delivered the remarks for Rural Studio. The central message he delivered was that the award recognizes that people and place really do matter, and that everyone, wherever they live and no matter their circumstance, should have the right to beautiful, dignified, and equitable design.

Our folks were in excellent company across the board. Nader Tehrani represented another intersection of the architectural arm of design and a focus on equity, and Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), from the allied field of landscape architecture, was selected for work in places where socioeconomic inequity is extreme, environmental risks are high, and public investment is historically low. David Hertz won for his explicit work in climate action: his design of WEDEW, a self-contained, transportable, and sustainable water and energy generator that converts biomass into essential human resources. And Felecia Davis’s design is in computational textiles, or textiles that respond to their environment via programming, embedded sensors, and electronics, or by using the changeable properties of materials to communicate information to people. She applies this research and design in large part to architecture, and her work addresses social, cultural, and political constructions. All of these winners have a just, equitable, healthful future underpinning their efforts.

Two of our colleagues come out of the realm of fashion design. Cooper Hewitt aptly describes Willy Chavarria’s work as blending “the emotion of art and modern politics into a reactionary story of the human will,” with his fashions making anti-hate statements. Emily Adams Bode was selected as this year’s emerging designer, with her menswear brand and her designs for New York Fashion Week: Men’s not only incorporating historical techniques and female-centric traditions like appliqué but also focusing on sustainability through repair of articles of clothing.

Other recipients won for design that advances the human experience in other ways. The jury selected CW&T, the design duo of Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy, to recognize their insightful and product design that concentrates on improving everyday experiences. Their range of design impressively extends from interactive software to human-scaled tools. And Giorgia Lupi’s award recognizes her contributions to data visualization, with designs engaging data-driven narratives across print, digital, and environmental media that create new insight and appreciation of people, ideas, and organizations.

We can’t even come close to doing justice to the design work all of these colleagues are doing. Go to Cooper Hewitt’s “Meet the 2022 Winners” page to learn more about each of them. It’ll be well worth your time.

The evening festivities from Wednesday night are over, but we will long be celebrating—as soon as the reality sinks in. And we’ll continue to champion the message of the rural, of people and place. It is being heard.

Rural Studio carefully transported to Newbern the trophy created by The Corning Museum of Glass, a trophy that in itself is a work of art. We are deeply humbled and honored to be recognized by the award’s Jury. Of course, we’ll be back up in New York to participate in the Design Career Fair, one of 11 events sponsored by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum as part of Design Week. The Design Career Fair connects students enrolled at the High School of Art and Design in New York City with the 2022 National Design Award winners, guest designers, and colleges. It’s an outstanding opportunity to let youth who are already on the path to design careers explore the possibilities, including rural architecture. We are excited to introduce students to a facet of design that focuses on people and place, one that addresses critical needs and lays out a more equitable future for us all.

Workshop Season in Newbern

The brand-new 5th-year class arrived in Newbern last month and got straight to work with this year’s lineup of Fall Workshops. We dove into two new projects, the 18×18 House and the Rural Studio Bathhouse.

Our first workshop visitor, friend, and consultant, Kiel Moe, is one of the new Professors of Practice specializing in mass timber at Auburn University School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Planning (APLA). Kiel helped us get our bearings on different types of mass timber, what it can do, and how we might use it to build a new bathhouse for the Pods, our dormitories on site at the Morrisette campus.

Two more APLA faculty, Assistant Professor Emily Knox and Associate Professor David Hill, joined us from Auburn, to dive into all things landscape architecture. They pushed us to think differently about what a “building” is and asked us to consider the broader site, with dirt and vegetation as space makers.

Next, we were put to the test by Cheryl Noel and Ravi Ricker, who visited from Chicago, Illinois, to help us specifically with this year’s house project. The house will only be 18 feet square, so we dug into the building code to understand what stairs can do for such a small house. Cheryl and Ravi asked us to mark out full-scale mock-ups of some of our best plan ideas, and afterwards we explored each one to see what the spaces might feel like.

Architect John Forney came from Birmingham, AL, to turn all preconceptions on their heads. He worked with us to really break apart the bathhouse project and think about how it may be situated across the Morrisette campus. John also challenged us to flip our 18’ x 18’ houses upside-down and see what switching the first- and second-floor program might do.

Our final visitors came all the way from Seattle, Washington! Kim Clements, Joe Schneider, and Jake LaBarre got into the details with us, drawing and sketching rapid-fire to round out our workshops. They helped us start to imagine what our projects might look like and how much space they’ll really take up by mocking up heights and imagining the vertical spaces.

Now we’re ready to get to work! Stay tuned for the next post when we introduce the teams and more details about the new projects!

Rural Studio Farm and the Black Belt Food Project

West Alabama has a new nonprofit working in Greensboro: the Black Belt Food Project (BBFP), started by our friend Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. The BBFP aims to build a stronger, more inclusive environment for children and adults through food-based educational opportunities. Eric Ball, Rural Studio’s Farm Manager, joined Sarah’s newly formed board, which includes Dr. John Dorsey, Director of Project Horseshoe Farm; Stephanie Nixon from Hale County Library and founder of Sacred Space, Inc.; and Amanda Storey, Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Sarah Cole is standing smiling at a range, seasoning some dishes

Sarah has already collaborated with Rural Studio on several events, like preparing all the excellent food for the Moundville Pavilion Project celebration (made with produce and flowers from Rural Studio Farm).

But now Rural Studio is building a relationship with the BBFP to begin to offer Rural Studio Farm as an educational resource with the broader West Alabama community. Notably, in October, Rural Studio, Newbern Library, and the BBFP are putting together a food event called Food for Thought: A journey through food, history, culture & taste.

And since Rural Studio Farm is producing more food than we can use, this week we started sharing extra produce with the BBFP to be distributed to the public at pick-up points in Greensboro, like in Project Horseshoe Farm’s new “store” space at their headquarters in downtown. It’s a “take what you need, give what you can” market stand.

Meanwhile, on the Farm, we’re moving into Autumn. We are harvesting some of the last warm-season crops like pinkeye purple hull peas, okra, peppers, zucchini, and squash. Sweet potatoes are filling the greenhouse, and we are starting lots of cool-season crops: lettuce, arugula, carrots, kale, spinach, chard, turnips, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, rutabagas, and more.

Sweat and Sweat Equity in Four Marianna Homes

Partners celebrate the ribbon cutting and dedication of four new high-performance homes in Marianna, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity.

On a hot, sunny day exactly 511 days after breaking ground on the first of four homes in the Chipola Street Development, we gathered on July 21 to celebrate the dedication of the four completed homes. These homes represent a collaborative partnership between Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), who developed the homes and managed construction; Chipola College Building Construction Technology (CCBCT), whose students received clock-hour credit while working to construct the homes; and Auburn Rural Studio, who provided the designs and technical assistance to build these high-performance homes. This collaborative also represents a nexus of needs to which organizations are working to respond: first, expanding equitable access to housing, second, providing high-performance homes that continue to benefit homeowners over the lifespan of the home, and third, growing a local workforce trained in building these high-performance homes. In addition to this tripartite collaborative, Regions Bank and Fannie Mae worked with CAHFH to ensure home affordability while simultaneously increasing CAHFH’s capacity to deliver more homes in their local communities.

Equitable Housing Access

The site for the four homes was a parcel that CAHFH had held in their portfolio for quite some time, as the narrow, sloping lot had proved difficult to develop. The benefit of the parcel, however, was its centrality to resources, including proximity to the town’s civic complex (including post office and courthouse) as well as to grocery stores. And, though the size of each individual parcel did not meet the minimum requirements of the zoning ordinance, CAHFH’s good relationship with the city allowed for them to both obtain a variance and demonstrate a method for infilling these small, in-town parcels.

On the financial side, CAHFH, Regions, and Fannie Mae worked together to pilot a process by which the sweat equity built into the houses is valued as a contribution to the downpayment. The affordability of the house is preserved via a deed restriction developed by Grounded Solutions Network and specifically designed to work with shared equity programs.

High-Performance Homes

All four homes were designed, constructed, and certified to meet ENGERGY STAR, FGBC Green Home, and FORTIFIED Home for Hurricane Gold standards! The house completed first, Buster’s House, received a final HERS score of 38; it is predicted that the house will save $697/year over a comparable home built to-code. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, that equates to a whopping $20,910 in savings. In addition to their energy efficiency, the homes are also designed to resist damage from high winds and rain. Since Florida already has robust building codes around resilience, CAHFH was already very familiar with the concept of providing a continuous load path – meaning that the roof is tied down to the walls and the walls are tied down to the foundation, allowing the home to resist strong wind forces. In addition to the continuous load path, the homes feature impact-resistant windows and extra layers of water protection on the roof. FORTIFIED certification can potentially lead to lower insurance premiums for the homeowner, providing monthly savings in addition to increased peace of mind. This project gave us our first opportunity to look into Florida Green Building Coalition’s Green Home standard. This standard is a points-based program (similar to LEED) and seeks to address Florida-specific climactic conditions for improved efficiency, health, and resilience performance. These high-performance homes aim to provide the homeowners with safe, comfortable, and durable homes that will continue to be an asset for many years to come.

Local Workforce

Sometimes opportunities emerge out of challenges. Construction on the homes began while there will pandemic-related challenges were limiting the number of CAHFH’s volunteers – a crucial component of the Habitat social and affordability models. Around the same time, Chipola College launched a Building Construction Technology program as part of their mission of enhancing CTE (career and technical education) opportunities across the state of Florida. Timing proved advantageous for both CAHFH and Chipola College – they initiated a partnership whereby CCBCT students received clock-hour credit toward construction certifications while building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Furthermore, these students received practical experience on the construction of high-performance homes, better able to respond to climactic challenges.

Needless to say, the Front Porch Initiative team learned a ton from this project! We’re grateful to have such wonderful collaborators in the Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity team (Carmen, Isaiah, Pete, Cynthia, Jennie Anne, and Tamara) and the Chipola College Building Construction Technology team (Darwin, Scott, and the CCBCT students). Here’s to the first four of what we hope are many homes to come!

The homes in the Chipola Street development represent four different product line homes, from left to right: Buster, Dave, Joanne, and Sylvia.

Press coverage of the event:

WJHG News Channel 7: “Habitat for Humanity finished four new homes in Marianna” by Ramsey Romero | July 21, 2022

Dothan Eagle: “Ribbon cut to signal finish of Habitat for Humanity tiny homes in Marianna” by Deborah Buckhalter | July 22, 2022

The First Month: 3rd-Year Edition

Rural Studio welcomed eleven new 3rd-year students to campus this Fall. Before we could begin this semester’s work on Rosie’s Home, we partook in Rural Studio’s bi-annual Neckdown Week.

Among several projects around the area, we helped lay the foundation for the C.H.O.I.C.E. House project, provided maintenance on the Newbern Firehouse, helped with upkeep of our own campus and home, and power-washed and weeded the Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro. Neckdown was the crash course in Rural Studio and Newbern.

Now that us 3rd-years have gotten thrown into the deep end of the goings on at Rural Studio, we can officially start our project: Rosie’s Home.

Welcome to Red Barn!

The 3rd-year class had a busy first few weeks in the Red Barn Studio. We started by getting to know our clients Rosie and Frankie. We created collages after meeting them to explore specific locations of the home.

While we were getting to know the clients, we had another project. We went to dollar stores and second-hand shops to pick up a variety of materials. Then we weaved, layered, and meshed the materials, and the result was funky–even for Rural Studio–and we’ve been known to do some weird stuff.

Pin-up of materials study in Red Barn

This project was a collaboration with the 4th-year Interior Architecture studio that is back on main campus in Auburn. In a Zoom meeting, we shared work from both studios including the materials, as well as our collages. Using all of the information and materials we previously organized, we teamed up (2-3 Rural Studio students and 2-3 main campus Interiors students) to explore how different materials might affect the atmosphere of Rosie’s Home.

Presenting to the Interiors Studio in Auburn from the Red Barn

Most recently, we began a study of all the previous 20K Homes. Looking at all the materials that make up the walls, we began to research their qualities, such as healthfulness, energy efficiency, and cost. We then presented our research and our work from previous weeks to visiting architects Cheryl Noel and Ravi Ricker of Wrap Architecture in Chicago.

Our reviewers offered a lot of great feedback on our presentation, graphics, and research and we are excited to continue to progress our design for the interior of Rosie’s Home!

Woodshop Class

Along with our studio course, we take a Woodshop course and a History Seminar here at Rural Studio. Our Woodshop class will focus on creating cabinetry for Rosie’s Home. The first assignment was to study cabinetry, focusing on function, space, and material of typical cabinetry, as well as cabinetry and storage in past Rural Studio projects. The course instructors Steve Long and Judith Seaman began an introduction to the workspace consisting of rules and regulations, and how to use the equipment and tools in the shop. They also gave us a presentation on the history of wood in the state of Alabama and in the local area of Hale County. Finally, we are excited to start our first woodworking project: a cutting board!

History Seminar

The History Seminar is on Monday afternoons with our instructor, Dick Hudgens. We travel around the local area and surrounding counties to study the vernacular architecture in West Alabama with an emphasis on wood constructed Antebellum homes. In the most recent class, we visited Glencairn in Greensboro. It was completed in 1837 and the original owner was John Erwin. During the tour, we learned about almost every detail of the home from the handcrafted cornices to the scrolls on the furniture. In order to study the intricate details of the home, we sketched the interior of the front door and surrounding trim work and the exterior elevation of the building. 

White Antebellum style home front elevation.
Glencairn Exterior

Stay tuned this semester!