Rural Studio Adapts to Social Distancing

Like all Americans, the Rural Studio community has felt the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. We live in a difficult time, but our community has always adapted to new circumstances and has done so again. Social distancing and remote teaching has undoubtedly created unique challenges to our place-based, hands-on model of teaching and learning. However, as always, we remain committed to our neighbors and the work.

Sheltering in place invokes shelter for the soul, and the current challenges have only affirmed how important the work is. For now, our students may have laid down their construction tools, but they continue to work diligently —preparing the necessary communication, planning, and documentation needed to insure the viability of the future of their projects. Our commitment to the students’ success has never been stronger. Our Farm continues to increase its capacity to produce fresh nutritious vegetables, offering an alternative to food scarcity in rural communities. The Front Porch Initiative is also growing, adding partners and staff to build capacity and celebrating recent home completions. Through our ongoing research and development, we stand firm in our commitment to housing, health, wellness, and all aspects of sustainable rural living.

Student Work

Social distancing has required Rural Studio to move all instruction online, but with the students’ detailed planning, we will complete all projects for our partners and clients once social distancing is lifted.

Our 3rd-year students have protected the site of Ophelia’s Home and preserved their documentation so that next year’s 3rd-year students can complete the design and construction. Two 5th-year projects—the Hale County Hospital Courtyard II and Reggie’s Home—will also be completed in the future, informed by the strong documentation being developed by the current student teams.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation 5th-year project team graduated in May and will continue their research this summer in the Rural Studio master’s program. Students on the Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project team are the first graduates of our master’s program. They are collaborating with our partners, Salmaan Craig and Kiel Moe at McGill University and David Kennedy at Auburn, to draft a research paper about their findings. The 2020 20K Home team is drafting step-by-step instructions about how to build their design, which will contribute to the work of the Front Porch Initiative research team.

The Horseshoe Courtyard and the Moundville Archaeological Park Community Pavilion teams made significant progress this spring. When Auburn transitioned to online instruction, students secured both of these sites and immediately began developing the documentation required to complete the projects in the near future.

In addition to their studio projects, students exceeded expectations in adapting to their classes moving to an online format. In the History & Watercolor course, 3rd-year students traveled virtually to historic wood buildings in West Alabama and created watercolor hand drawings of each building. A new cabinet course for the 3rd-year students focused on the design and fabrication of millwork for 20K Ophelia’s Home. In the On & Beyond the Chair class, 5th-year students experimented by “taking a line for a walk,” producing daily drawings using quick hand drawings as a tool for both wondering and wandering.

The Farm

While many of us stay home, we have seen images from around the world of our Earth flourishing with cleaner air and water, affirming nature’s perseverance, plentifulness, and beauty. Rural Studio’s Farm has been similarly bountiful. Even during a time of social distancing, our Farm continues to produce nutritious food from earlier spring plantings. The Farm team continues to process and store as much of that produce as they can for later use. New plantings will also feed the Rural Studio community this fall.

The Front Porch Initiative

The Front Porch Initiative continues to grow our team.  Working online, the team continues to foster collaborations with both Institutional Partners and Field Test Partners, planning and building 20K homes in rural communities. In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, two high performance homes have been completed in Opelika, AL, and several other Field Test Partners will be breaking ground on homes this summer.

For more information and news about Rural Studio’s ongoing work, visit our website and continue checking our project blogs daily. Rural Studio will also publish its annual printed newsletter later this summer with more special features about students, more details about projects, and updates about Rural Studio’s many activities. Follow our news and blogs by subscribing to our email updates.