Rural Studio begins 27th year working in Hale County, Alabama

Welcome, new students!

The fall semester has officially begun! Students arrived in Newbern last week with new protocols in place to make our design-build education as safe as possible in these unprecedented times of COVID-19. We fully support Auburn’s plan for “A Healthier U” and are focused on the health and safety of our Rural Studio family and community.

As students arrived for the first week of class, they were tested for COVID-19 to ensure we’re beginning the new semester with everyone in good health. Students, staff, and faculty will continue to monitor their health daily through a Healthcheck screener, maintain social distance, and wear masks both indoors and outdoors.

In these first few months, our goal is to spend as much time outside as possible, so we will be working on job sites exclusively. We have also adjusted studio spaces to better protect students and enable social distancing in our work areas. Our 3rd-year students are living and working at Spencer House, while 5th-years and master’s students are working in spaces spread throughout Red Barn in downtown Newbern.

Moving Projects Forward

This spring our students responded with grace and adapted quickly in a time of crisis. Their rigorous documentation will enable new students to pick up and take their projects forward.

Our new 3rd-year students are continuing the work on 20K Ophelia’s Home. When students transitioned to virtual learning in mid-March, the building site was buttoned up and the platform was protected with a tarp. Ophelia and her family have been patiently waiting on the return of a new group of students. This week students will jump into the work by assessing how well the platform fared during the delay, continue with foundation drains, and prepare for wall construction. They will also be learning the basics of woodworking skills and safety through a series of small design-build projects in the woodshop class. In their history and theory seminar, they will study historic wood buildings in West Alabama through observation and hand drawings.

The 5th-year students are working on two home projects this year. They will build homes for Reggie and the Myers family, both of whom we began working with last year in the Reggie’s Home and 2020 20K Home projects. The new students will examine research from last year’s teams and are being challenged to propose very different ‘pole barn’ roof and structure scenarios for the two houses.

In the master’s program, we are excited to celebrate the completion of the Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project and the ongoing work of the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project. The Breathing Wall team has nearly completed the two test buildings behind Morrisette House which will become 3rd-year students’ accommodations in the future. We are also excited to announce that the team will soon publish Rural Studio’s first peer-reviewed scientific paper! The Thermal Mass team is analyzing data from this summer’s wood and concrete chimney experiments and finalizing pod designs, which will offer new testing opportunities of their research at full scale. Their work will be completed by May 2021.

The Horseshoe Courtyard project team has resumed work on site this week. They will have small groups of students in rotation to help complete the final stage of construction. The team is preparing the ground surfaces to install brick and concrete areas and then plant trees and vines. The last step is completing the screens and alcove areas. We hope to celebrate the opening of this beautiful courtyard later in the fall.

With the help of detailed documentation from both Moundville Pavilion and Hale County Hospital Courtyard 2 project teams, new students in Fall 2021 can complete that important work.

All students will begin working in small group rotations on the Rural Studio Farm each morning to assist in the growing of healthy food for students, staff, and faculty meals.

Thank you to each student for their patience and dedication during these unusual times, despite unique challenges to our place-based, hands-on model of teaching and learning. We greatly appreciate the unwavering support of our colleagues and leadership in Auburn as well as our consistent and generous donors. We remain committed to our neighbors and the work.

War Eagle!!!