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Curb Alert!

Hello again and welcome back to the newest addition of the Rural Studio Bathhouse blog! We are so thrilled to show everyone what we’ve been up to recently! We have a big concrete update, but first—we’ve started stacking our wood walls!

student team poses in outdoor shower
Progress on the outdoor shower!

This is super exciting because this is the major focus of the project, and will be the finish wall material in most of the spaces. Continuing with the construction of the outdoor shower, we have started the stacking here. With the help of the jig table that we built a few months ago, we can align our pieces of cypress wood on one side (the interior of the building) and can clamp them down to the board below, creating a uniform module of five pieces.

We are assembling the modules in the Fabrication Pavilion so we can have a clean working surface. This allows us to stack the modules as they will be set up on site, get everything square and level, and then move the modules in place on site.

We have just a few more layers of modules to assemble and then will begin the process of drilling the holes for the threaded rods in each module.

image of a corner of the stacked outdoor shower
Box-joined corners

As the stacking of the outdoor shower walls was taking place, we also began the process of pouring the concrete curbs around the perimeter of the outdoor shower. We marked the curbs on the slab, assembled framed walls in place on the slab to hold the plywood formwork, and then leveled and attached the plywood to the formwork frames. Next, it was time for the pour!

image of interior curb formwork
Outdoor shower curb formwork

With the assistance of some great helpers, we were able to form a wheelbarrow and bucket brigade, lifting the concrete up into the curbs in the outdoor shower.

After two days, we were able to remove the interior formwork and the vertical formwork walls on the exterior, revealing the hefty slab and curbs!

Once we saw how the pour went for the outdoor shower, we used the same process to build the curb formwork for the toilet and shower pods.

Pouring the outdoor shower first did teach us some things, including how to attach the plywood to the frames and the need to account for gaps at the seam between the formwork and slab due to the leveling process, and generally we learned the overall process of getting the concrete into the curbs.

After caulking all gaps, the formwork was set and it was ready to pour!

image of finished curb formwork on toilet and shower pods
Before the pour

Again with the help of some fantastic helpers, we recently poured the curbs for the toilet and shower pods and are so excited to almost be done with concrete!

image of toilet and shower pod right after concrete pour
After!

As this is being written, the team has been taking off all the interior curb formwork and the exterior vertical walls on the toilet and shower pod, revealing the slab and curbs!

We have another concrete pour coming up in a few days. This next pour will be for the foundation of a gray water filtration system for the outdoor shower run-off and the foundation of the bottle-filling station at the front of the building. We are already busy preparing for that pour with more digging and more rebar! Afterward, the only concrete left will be a topping slab going into each of the existing pods (the laundry and getting ready pods).

The team is very excited about the progress being made and cannot wait to dive back into the assembly of the wood walls for the outdoor shower and the rest of the building!

students take a rest in outdoor shower
Time for a nap!

Thanks for following along with the Bathhouse blog! We look forward to providing another update very soon.

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan

Treating wastewater and improving health in West Alabama

Phase 1 Ribbon Cutting of Newbern’s new sanitary sewer system located at Rural Studio headquarters

The Alabama Black Belt region has long struggled with a lack of wastewater treatment infrastructure, which is necessary for both the safety of wildlife and the health of residents. Only half of Black Belt residents have access to a clean and effective municipal sanitary sewer system. The other half are expected to treat waste on their own property.

Rural Studio is part of a large collaboration aiming to address this challenge through an alternative wastewater treatment system. We celebrated the completion of Phase 1 of this new sanitary sewer system at a Newbern Community Fish Fry & Ribbon Cutting on Tuesday, June 4th, 2024.

Community Fish Fry Dinner provided by the University of Alabama

The event welcomed nearly 150 neighbors and friends to learn more about the project and what’s next for the broader Newbern community. On hand to greet and educate the community was the whole research team, consisting of six university and not-for-profit organizations: University of Alabama, University of South Alabama (USA), University of North Carolina, Arizona State University, Columbia University, Black Belt Community Foundation, and Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater.

The Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Consortium devised solutions to address wastewater needs throughout the Black Belt, and Rural Studio is hosting the demonstration of one such solution. Called a “cluster” system, this treatment unit will initially connect clusters of 50 or so homes within a five-mile radius of the Studio. The homes will share one water treatment unit, which is specially designed for the Black Belt soil. It uses two-inch pipes (instead of larger sewer pipes found in septic systems), so it can withstand the challenges of the clay soil.

For many rural residents nationally, septic systems provide the necessary wastewater treatment, but this method is not an effective solution in the Black Belt. These systems average $10,000-$30,000, making them exorbitantly expensive for lower income residents. Even more prohibitive is the Black Belt’s soil condition: the area’s soil is made of clay, which often leads to backups in septic tanks. It is estimated that roughly half of rural residents in Black Belt counties have failing septic systems or are simply dumping wastewater directly on to their land, leading to raw sewage in and around homes. The Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Consortium, comprised of volunteer experts from industry, government, and academia, was formed in 2018 to directly address the rural wastewater challenge. As part of this consortium, Rural Studio is leading the way in wastewater treatment for Hale County.

Wastewater treatment unit shown at the 2024 Pig Roast (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The Rural Studio wastewater project is a prototype for future projects, leveraging funds from several state and federal agencies, including the American Rescue Plan Act, commonly known as the Biden infrastructure bill, the USDA, and Columbia World Projects. These agencies are collaborating to build a plan for increasing the number of Black Belt residents with access to proper wastewater treatment from 50% to 75%. Initially, the wastewater project will be limited to the Rural Studio community, before expanding into community homes. This first phase will provide a proof of concept for local rural residents and show that such a system is both effective and non-invasive.

Associate Professor Emily McGlohn, who spearheads Rural Studio’s wastewater project, stresses the importance of this acceptance: “We know that for a community project to be successful, especially one being presented to the community from an outside group, you really need to let people see it and understand it. So, phase one will just serve us. It’ll be open to the public, and it will let our local community, our local government, individuals and anybody else to come understand the system.”

Along with its hosting role for this first treatment system, Rural Studio, particularly McGlohn, acts as the connective tissue between the government agencies, the Consortium, the collaborating universities, and—most importantly—the residents of Hale County. “I am the community advocate. I communicate with our neighbors to make sure they know what’s going on, with the engineer, with the other faculty team with USA and Alabama, and with the contractor.”

Over its 30 years, Rural Studio’s mission has expanded to promote community wellness in its rural community, and the wastewater project is an outgrowth of that work. Clean sanitation improves the health and well-being of our West Alabama neighbors in an area that has been under-resourced for generations. McGlohn emphasizes the Studio’s vital role in this important work: “It’s truly a public health crisis that the Black Belt counties find themselves in. And there are so few solutions. That’s why we’re here to help.”

The Home Stretch

Nearing the Finish Line

Well, hello again! The 3rd-year class is back again for your entertainment. It has finally cooled down here in Hale County: the fans have been stored away for the semester and winter jackets and heated blankets made their debut. Since our last blog, we have been so busy and are excited to tell you all about it!

Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing

When we last checked in with the MEP Boys, the plumbing team, Luke and Cayden, were finishing up the dryer vent installation and just starting on water supply lines; while the electrical team, Jack and Casey, were finishing up wiring throughout the house! After a few days of dry-fitting both wiring and plumbing parts, the MEP teams were able to begin setting everything in final positions. Following supply line fitting, the plumbing team began running pressure tests to ensure no leaks in the hot and cold water lines. As the electrical team finished up on wiring, they duly began testing each of their 22 circuits.

After successful tests, the plumbing team moved on to attaching the main water line to the house and placing and leveling the shower floor with mortar. After a day of mixing and spreading mortar, the plumbing team came back to a perfectly level and functional shower pan.

The electrical team successfully tested each interior circuit and moved onto the exterior wiring and placing of conduit on the porch with the help of Mason. After finalizing the interior plumbing and electrical, the MEP team cleaned up their typical mess of wires and nuts so the drywall team could get to work over the Thanksgiving Break!

Cabinets and Carpentry

As the Interiors team awaited the arrival of their tongue-and-groove cypress cladding, our sweet friend from that team, Kylie Kendall joined the ranks of the Millwork team for extra help in the woodshop. While Caitlin and Shannon worked hard on figuring out the composition of the lower cabinet drawers, Biz and Kylie, with aid of instructor Steve Long, used maple hardwood to construct face frames for the upper cabinets. After finishing sanding for all the cabinets, Caitlin and Shannon moved to priming while Biz and Kylie built the plywood bases for them sit on upon install.

Through meeting with our clients Rosie and Frankie, it came to our attention that we needed change in the plans. The cabinets previously formed an L-shaped kitchen that ended in a tall pantry storage unit. However, Rosie is accustomed to a U-shaped kitchen. The team met with Rosie to form a plan for the new kitchen shape and pivoted work to building a small peninsula cabinet instead, what we’re calling “Florida”. So, we headed back to the Studio to start brainstorming “Florida” into reality. Our interpretation was a peninsula added onto the end of the lower cabinets to cap them. This peninsula will add adjustable storage to both the kitchen and living room sides.

We were also tasked with the job of designing and building a closet for the bedroom that responded to the ceiling vaulted and exposed tension members. After many ideas, we landed on the final design and headed to site for a major blocking job for all of the millwork to be installed later.

Interiors

Tanner, Kylie, Emma A., and Emma J. have started cranking out the interior cladding in Rosie’s Home. To prepare for the drywall installation, different and healthier alternative insulations are being applied to the house’s walls and roof. On the east wall, Hempitecture Hempwool is being firmly fitted in the wall, we love the ease of installation on this one! Up above, ROCKWOOL is being hung on the ceiling. The west wall will be all Havelock sheep’s wool batts. On the north and south wall, a mixture of Hempwool, ROCKWOOL, and sheep wool are used for testing the effectiveness of the different insulations. As Kylie was stolen away from the team, the remaining members worked on finalizing the interior finish options and presented the cool, neutral, and warm options. They put together beautiful mood boards that represented the interior cladding, flooring, and cabinet colors and presented to Rosie and family. After that, Tanner and Emma J. along with Mason ventured to Cleveland, Georgia, to pick up the wood cladding and trim needed to finish the interior.

Enclosures

Bailey, Hannah, Kati, and McAllister have been working hard to continue wrapping up the exterior cladding. After finishing the vertical and horizontal battens on the front wall and roof, one of the picture windows arrived and was able to be installed on the north facade.

While Kati and Bailey completed the metal cladding on the north side, Hannah and McAllister stained and installed the wood cladding on the front. Once the whole team started working on the front, the wood cladding went up with ease, and before they knew it the wall was done. After some brainstorming on how the edge of the roof and wall would meet, the team settled on a slight roof overhang and then got to work on the application.

Halloween Review

It was time for the annual Rural Studio Halloween review and the 3rd-years dressed up as whimsical characters from the Dr. Seuss books. Starring in the 2023 Halloween review was…

Biz Helms as Horton the Elephant 

Bailey Kennedy as The Fish

Caitlin Ranheim as Thing 1

Casey Dillard as Mr. Brown

Cayden Davis as Sneetch 

Emma Avery as The Lorax

Emma Johnson as Thing 2

Hannah Weiland as The Fox in Socks

Jack Felder as The Grinch

Kati Warner as The Cat in the Hat

Kylie Kendall as The Once-ler

Luke Bradberry as JoJo 

McAllister Tucker as Cindy Lou Who

Shannon Brennan as Sam-I-Am

Tanner Wallace as Max the Dog 

On site, McAllister, Emma A., Caitlin, and Luke presented Rosie’s Home to visiting architects and got critiques on the progress already made to the house. To end the day, the 3rd-years competed in a costume competition with the rest of Rural Studio and to their dismay, did not win. Congratulations the the 5th-year CLT Core House team for their victory!

Chop, Drop, and Roll

Continuing on our journey into the woodworking world, all five groups have begun our final chairs! After working out any issues that were brought to light by the completion of our mock-ups, we have now refined our techniques and are working hard to finish each chair by Soup Roast.

Steve has continued to help us through all of the challenges we’ve faced, even if that means meeting in the early mornings with us. Regardless of the bumps in the road, we are all ecstatic to show you how much we’ve learned this semester with the final renditions of our iconic chairs!

Pillars of the Past

Since we last talked, we visited The Oaks in Greensboro, Alabama, where we met its steward, Ian Crawford, who just so happened to be one of Dick Hudgens’ past interns! We learned much more about our professor, his work, and this gorgeous and well-loved home. This house represented Greek revival and the class favorite room was the Greek mythology-themed dressing room!

We also visited the Jemison Mansion in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This house represented Italianate architecture and provided a unique and large wall-to-wall custom carpet and featured the first interior working toilet and bathtub in Alabama.

In our final class with Professor Hudgens, we carpooled all the way to Columbus, Mississippi. We had the privilege to visit the Riverview Mansion first, one of the finest examples of Greek revival in the South. The second destination was Temple Heights Mansion, which also represented Greek revival architecture in a denser neighborhood site. At this stop, we drew elevations of the home and enjoyed the sights of the lush garden and property in a setting unlike previous rural homes we’ve seen. The final destination was Waverly Mansion. This iconic home featured four floors of beautifully executed historic preservation, with more modern restorations in the east wing. We ended this trip with dinner at Harvey’s and said our goodbyes to Dick until we see him again at Soup Roast with our completed watercolor paintings.

Gone Nuts!

As best friends here in Rural Studio, Biz Helms decided she would treasure nothing more than bringing all the 3rd-year students to her hometown of Dothan to attend the National Peanut Festival. So we all packed into cars, some more than others, and made our way to the Circle City itself.

As for the weekend itinerary details; driving, eating, sleeping, eating again, festival rides, watching cattle shows, viewing the peanut gallery, eating AGAIN, riding more rides, eating one last time, shopping for merchandise, and more driving. As one can see from this weekend, our hearts were as full as our bellies, but our wallets were empty.

Well, thanks for stopping by! We are having so much fun and never wanna leave, but for now we are cherishing every moment out here. As Kati Warner always says, “We are living in the good ‘ole days.”  Check back later to see the end of the semester and what we present for Soup Roast!

See you soon!

Well Underway at Rosie’s

On Site and In Studio

Since dividing into our studio teams, the 3rd-year class of Fall 2023 has hit the ground running. We’re working hard every day to accomplish our goal of completing Rosie’s Home. These days, each site team is working on different tasks to advance the current design challenges and move construction forward.

Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing

The Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing team, known on site as “MEP,” is in the midst of electrical and plumbing systems installation. Luke and Cayden are focused on plumbing design and have installed the ventilation system. They are learning the ins-and-outs of supply lines, drains, and where they all go! While the two plumbers have been hard at work, Jack and Casey are wiring up the house. After many iterations of circuit diagrams and lighting critiques with electric expert Mason, Judith, and Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi lighting design, wires are being run and light fixtures chosen.

Cabinets and Carpentry

In the meantime, Caitlin, Shannon, and Biz were off to a speedy start framing the interior walls of the house earlier this semester. Since finishing the bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom walls, they are working with Steve and Judith in the Woodshop on the cabinets that were designed and built in past semesters’ Woodshop classes. The team hopes to imminently install these in Rosie’s beautiful new kitchen!

The cabinetry project for Rosie’s Home is part of an initiative to utilize healthier material alternatives in the prototype home design. These cabinets are constructed with zero-formaldehyde plywood, solid maple, and will use a low-to-zero VOC finish. On site, the home’s insulation strategy uses Havelock Wool (from sheep!), Hempitecture HempWool, and ROCKWOOL. All of these materials have reduced amounts of harmful particulates and binding agents compared to typical fiberglass or spray-in foam insulation.

Interiors

Back on site, Emma J., Emma A., Kylie, and Tanner are working to turn this house into a home through thoughtful choices of interior finishes. The team is building on-site mock-ups of the interior wall and ceiling materials in which they tested finish options. In all this, they are keeping in mind the lessons learned from “The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building.” Rosie’s interior will likely be paneled in tongue-in-groove cypress planks, finished in a to-be-determined shade, along the more utilized corridor of the home for durability and visual connection to the porch exterior.

Enclosures

On the outside, Kati, McAllister, Hannah, and Bailey are tackling many jobs to make sure the exterior of the home is sealed tight. They have worked at great heights to cut and install skylights, the first in awhile for the Studio—oh, the things you can do with a second roof! They have also cut to size and installed nearly all the exterior metal cladding. Preparations have since begun for installation of exterior wood cladding on the porch wall. The material change on the front porch offers a change in scale and softer material on the most protected, and most occupied, wall of the exterior.

Knock on Wood

Our journey in Woodshop Class this semester began with a fantastic introduction as we delved into the world of cutting boards. With two pieces of maple and one of walnut, we set out to test our new woodworking skills and flex our creativity. The initial cutting board project served as a practice run for all the tools in the shop, allowing us to gain confidence and skill in using these essential tools before diving into the main project of the semester.

After conquering the cutting board challenge, we embarked on an even more exciting journey—crafting iconic chairs. We are divided into five teams, each taking on the task of remaking a famous architectural chair from scratch. This year’s lineup is all classics from the Rural Studio Woodshop chair history books. Which is your favorite!?

  • Frei Edigio Chair by Lina Bo Bardi 
    • Kati Warner, Mcallister Tucker, and Cayden Davis
    • Luke Bradberry, Bailey Kennedy, and Kylie Kendall
  • Zig Zag Chair by Gerrit Rietveld
    • Emma Avery, Shannon Brennan, and Biz Helms
  • Standard Chair No. 4 by Jean Prouvé
    • Jack Felder, Tanner Wallace, and Casey Dillard
  • Stool No. 60 by Alvar Aalto
    • Caitlin Ranheim, Emma Johnson, and Hannah Weiland

We’re currently wrapping up the mock-up phase, crafting preliminary versions of each chair design. This essential step allows us to address any issues, refine techniques, and fine-tune details before we embark on the final build. It’s a thrilling time as we embrace challenges and ensure our final chairs stay true to their iconic counterparts. Stay tuned for the final products!

On the Road for History

Our history adventure kicks off with a tour of Greek Revival and Federal homes from primarily the 19th century. These historic gems surround us in the Black Belt, offering a glimpse into the past. Guided by professor Dick Hudgens, we explore these homes, examining and documenting their intricate period details and architectural spatial qualities. Sites we have toured so far are…

  • Glencairn – Greensboro, AL
  • Magnolia Grove – Greensboro, AL
  • Bluff Hall & Lyons Hall – Demopolis, AL
  • Folsom Farm – Marion, AL
  • Thornhill – Boligee, AL
  • Gaineswood Hall – Demopolis, AL

But this class is more than just sightseeing, Hudgens challenges us to create quick sketches of these homes, encouraging us to learn by doing. We sketch elevations, plans, details, and sections, making us appreciate and question the architecture in a more hands-on and critical way.

Homework assignments are far from typical. We practice our art and observation skills through small watercolor paintings of landscapes and architectural details. This isn’t just about honing our artistic abilities but connecting with the artistry of the past.

As the semester progresses, our skills culminate in a final, large-scale, watercolor painting. This time, not of historic homes but everyday objects like a carton of eggs or a garden hose in the grass. We’re tasked with turning these items into captivating art, all of this with natural pigments we’ve collected and made throughout the semester!

We’ve just soaked and stapled our large-scale paper for the final project, and our classroom buzzes with excitement. Every student pours their artistic soul into this project, inspired by the historic beauty of Newbern, Alabama.

Good Eats and Birthday Celebrations

Time is moving fast here in Newbern, we’re past mid-semester already! In recent news, Rural Studio’s beloved Chef Catherine has returned! Since then Cat’s cooking has been nothing short of impeccable, in our humble opinion. Some of the 3rd-year’s favorite meals include vegetable soup, BBQ pork, and chicken-fried steak. Her return also means an updated salad bar including bacon bits, hummus, and fresh garden lettuce! You can certainly say the 3rd-year class is excited to have Catherine back. 

Our class has also celebrated some very important birthdays in the last couple of weeks. We partied for our clients’—Rosie and Frankie’s—birthdays in style. Rosie’s party included a delicious confetti cake with chocolate frosting after a mini review of the house. For his birthday, Frankie hosted a potluck BBQ with the entire studio for his birthday. The 3rd-year students brought Milo’s sweet tea, burger fixings, wacky chips, bacon green beans, ramen slaw, and Kylie’s Famous Corn Dip. Frankie cooked the burgers, Conecuh sausage, and catfish. Judith brought sweet potato pie, Frankie’s favorite dessert! 

All in all the 3rd-years have been living the life here at Rural Studio. 

Before we go, get to know us a little more! Here are the studio’s favorite meals that Chef Cat has cooked for us! 

Biz Helms: BBQ sandwich

Caitlin Ranheim: Beef tips over rice 

Casey Dillard: BBQ pork

Cayden Davis: Spaghetti

Emma Avery: Spaghetti

Emma Johnson: Chicken-fried steak 

Hannah Weiland: Vegetable soup

Jack Felder: Mac & cheese and steamed okra 

Kati Warner: Vegetable soup

Kylie Kendall: Lasagna 

Luke Bradberry: BBQ pork 

McAllister Tucker: Vegetable soup

Shannon Brennan: Blackened chicken and candied yams 

Tanner Wallace: Squash casserole

We’ll get back to work! Check in soon to hear about our Halloween Review and see our costumes! Until then, thank you for reading!

Kicking Things Off

Welcome all to the first CLT Core House blog post! We are so excited to share everything we have been learning so far. It has been quite an adventure up until now. Let’s start from the beginning…

The 5th-Years taking a selfie in their first mock-up.

When our group of eight 5th-year students was briefed on the two new projects, we realized that things would be a little different. It was clear that the CLT Core House and Fabrication Pavilion projects would be more intertwined than most. They will help to inform each other as they develop.

Before our Rural Studio experience, architecture school seemed to be primarily a solo endeavor. It has been an invaluable experience to work as a team of eight as we navigated all the difficulties of trying to make an effective team. Throughout this process, we have been lucky enough to have had workshops with some truly inspiring architects and consultants who have advised and mentored us as we go.

It was exciting to be involved in both projects, but inevitably we had to split into teams.

Let’s meet the team!

5th-year polaroids

As a newly formed team, it feels great to be able to direct more of our attention toward one project. Our house is the first iteration of a new Rural Studio exploration and another addition to its research into mass timber applications. The cores of the house will contain the essential systems of a home such as a bathroom or kitchen. CLT (cross-laminated timber) walls will support the systems. Since the CLT is both the structure and the finish, we want to prefabricate these cores. Hopefully, prefabrication will provide some interesting benefits in reducing construction time, cost, and labor. The cores could also be the main structural support for the house while still providing an opportunity for easy maintenance of all the critical systems, like mechanical, electrical, and plumbing.

Our team feels so lucky to work on this challenging project; the opportunities seem endless. Since its beginning, Rural Studio has invested its time and energy toward understanding what housing in a rural condition can be. Our team hopes to continue that legacy.

Serious business aside, we all feel that it has been an absolute joy to work out here. The program is intense and fast-paced. That’s part of the privilege of being here. We intend to take advantage of that opportunity and have as much fun as we can while doing it!

Thank you all for starting this journey with us and supporting us along the way. Stay tuned for our future posts! We look forward to keeping you updated.

Core house team group photo.