Academic Programs
Learning by Doing

Undergrad 3rd-Year

The Undergraduate 3rd-Year Program is an optional program for Bachelor of Architecture students at Auburn University. Cohorts of up to sixteen 3rd-year students live on campus at Morrisette House in Newbern, one during the fall semester and one during the spring semester. Each semester, students work collectively to design and build a home for local clients in West Alabama.

Students work on a design studio project as part of a 14-16 person team, building a contemporary house out of wood using platform frame construction. Alongside that project, the 3rd-years focus on the craft, use, and history of wood in their program. The dessein class, a.k.a. chair making class, offers students the opportunity to study wood up close and really understand its properties by working it and handcrafting a fine piece of modern furniture; this course’s work is structured in small teams. The seminar, focusing on history and theory, studies how antebellum wooden homes can offer us lessons in making today’s architecture; its watercolor focus offers students a concentrated solo learning experience.

3rd-Year Classes

  • Seminar in Aspects of Design (informally, “History & Watercolor”)

    This history and theory seminar at Rural Studio familiarizes the students with the built environment in Alabama’s Black Belt. It communicates the national and international context of wooden buildings—the physical, social, and cultural environments—when they were built and how they relate to the world today. They study how wooden buildings have survived so long (raised off the ground out of the water with big overhanging roofs), how they were naturally ventilated (with narrow plans good cross ventilation, high ceilings, operable transom windows and porches that shaded the building), and how they gave human comfort (the great porches). Students travel weekly to historic wood buildings in West Alabama, then discuss and free hand sketch each building. Student work culminates in a “Beaux Arts” watercolor of a historic wood building in the Black Belt.

    Watercolor of St. Luke's Episcopal Church
    Watercolor of Ormond-Little House
  • Dessein (informally, “Chair Making Class”)

    Students in this furniture-making course acquire solid woodworking by developing and designing the process of recreating iconic Modernist architect designed chairs through research, drawing, modeling, and building. The final products are extensive drawings, jigs, mock-ups, and the actual reproduction of the chair. By removing the design of the object from the process, the students focus on construction technique and craft. They acquire a greater understanding of the properties of wood by using only hand tools: we don’t use CNC routers or digital technology. The challenge is to craft by hand and to “feel” the material.

Undergrad 5th-Year

The Undergraduate 5th-Year Program is an optional program for up to twelve Bachelor of Architecture students in their final year at Auburn University. Teams of four students formulate sustainable building programs, fundraise, make community presentations, and design and build homes or community projects from foundation to roof. 

Master’s Program

The Master of Science in Architecture / Option in Public Interest Design (MS Arch) Program is a three-semester opportunity for students with an undergraduate degree in architecture or other related design degree. Graduate students are immersed fully in Rural Studio’s design-build program and work as part of a small collaborative team of students in a directed research project in West Alabama. 

5th-Years & Master’s Class

  • Seminar in Aspects of Design (informally, “On and Beyond the Chair”)

    To supplement the intense team-based design studio design-build project, 5th-year and master’s students have a weekly individual hand drawing class. On and Beyond the Chair supplements and improves students’ graphic experimentation with free-hand drawing methods. Students “learn by making,” focusing on executing work with intelligence, manual skills, and high quality. To manifest this work, the students focus on a single chair of their choosing, creating two full-scale drawings: a 2-D drawing focused on the construction of the chair and a 3-D drawing recording the chair’s proportions. They also create a 4:1-scale mixed-media drawing dedicated to a large, personal image from the imagination.

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