Education—true education—comes from blending expertise, input, and experience to solve deep-rooted problems. It is about insight. It is about students making connections and developing their own measures of rigor and their own processes. At Rural Studio, we celebrate a philosophy of “many voices,” providing not only hands-on experience but also a culture of inquiry and shared ideas, of reflection and decision-making, and of playfulness. It’s important to have fun along the way. Students learn to listen to teammates, faculty, community members, and consulting experts. We give students encouraging but accurate feedback and generate deep dialogue; sometimes the voices may be contradictory or conflicting. It’s up to the students to decipher and resolve the conflict. The goals are the same for all: how we reach those goals is the challenge, and the true learning. We try to create a healthy, safe, secure learning environment in which students can thoughtfully grow and find their own way. This is all part of our approach, and this can often be evident in the students’ project blogs, which offer a richer and more personal sense of Rural Studio’s teaching culture.
Ultimately, the design team must quietly reflect on feedback and choose how to proceed: the project is theirs, not the faculty’s. For 5th-year projects, which usually have four team members, the faculty collectively serves as more of an additional teammate, collaboratively offering suggestions, feedback, and support. The faculty contributes to the process of making final decisions and solutions, but in the end these are owned by the design team. Any shortfalls are theirs too, and they are essential to the learning process. True failure is not in the shortfall but in the refusal to grow from it. In that sense, we leave room only for learning, not failure.
Our faculty members are key to creating the “many voices” culture. Acting together as a fifth teammate on design projects, they bring national and international training and practice to Rural Studio. The strength of collaboration is rooted in their range of perspectives as well as their common commitment to dignity, place, good design, and purpose. Students studying at Rural Studio benefit both from faculty members who have been active in the field since the 1980s and early 1990s and from more newly minted professionals with research in the best application of materials and coming recently from design firms. The breadth of faculty helps students reimagine concepts like community access to resources and consultant roles. Regardless of background, our faculty see commonalities among challenges rural architecture must address, from rural communities in Italy and Illinois, to those in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Yet they also are attuned to the nuances of each structure’s and community’s places and purposes. All embrace the idea that design should be dignified, even for modest spaces with everyday uses. Most of all, Rural Studio faculty members create a culture that students honor: respect for clients and context, resourcefulness, critical capacity, and the ability to exceed expectations.
Our consultants are critical to giving students a range of perspectives, sharing their expertise early in the project design process as teammates, not as correctives. These consultants from around the world have built national and international reputations. We engage them to lecture and to participate in intensive 5th-year workshops and project reviews. They bring years of insight into architecture, landscape, environment, multiple types of engineering, and more. We emphasize that consultants are partners, not people to hire as an afterthought. Early integration of their expertise gives students an essential understanding of constraints and big questions students hadn’t thought to ask; it teaches them to identify and understand pragmatic restrictions, including building codes, and develop creative ways to realize their vision within those constraints.
Architect & Structural Designer | Anderson Inge Building Workshop | Architectural Association | London, England
Cheryl Noel & Ravi Ricker
Architects | Wrap Architecture | Chicago, IL
Architect & Professor | Wheeler Kearns Architects | University of Illinois at Chicago | Chicago, IL
Architect | CLB Architects | Jackson Hole, MT
Dason Whitsett & Adam Pyrek
Architects, Building Performance Consultants, & Professors | Cinco Lab | University of Texas at Austin | Austin, TX
Architect, Landscape Architect, Professor | HILLWORKS | Auburn University | Auburn, AL
Architect, Professor | Decentralized Design Lab | Auburn University | Auburn, AL
Architect | Frank Harmon Architects | Raleigh, NC
Architect & Builder | Jersey Devil Design Build | Miami, FL
Director of Community Development | Homewise | Sante Fe, NM
Architect, Professor | Capomaggi + | University of Illinois, Chicago | Chicago, IL
Julie Eizenberg & Hank Koning
Architects | Koning & Eizenberg | Los Angeles, CA
Katrina Van Valkenburgh
Managing Director, Central Region | Corporation for Supportive Housing | Chicago, IL
Research Scientist of Urbanization and Global Change in the Terrestrial Information Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center | Washington, DC
Architect, Professor | McGill University | Quebec, Canada
Market Farm Manager | BDA Farm | Uniontown, AL
Architect, Professor | Marlon Blackwell Architects | Fayetteville, AR
Architect | SHED Studio | Chicago, IL
Architect | Atelier Ten | Melbourne & Sydney, Australia
Architect | Landon Bone Baker Architects | Chicago, IL
Architect | GLUCK+ | New York, NY
Professor | McGill University | Quebec, Canada
Architect, Builder & Professor | Jersey Devil Design Build | University of Washington | Seattle, WA
Engineer | Glass Light and Special Structures Limited | London, England
Photographer | The Arkansas Office | Little Rock, AR
Tod Williams & Billie Tsien
Architects | Tod Williams & Billie Tsien Architects | New York, NY
We develop our community projects by working hand-in-hand with community partners, the many leaders both individual and collective. Leaders include mayors, commissioners, probate judges, and others. Collective committees range from boards, councils, departments, schools, and businesses to other organizations, such as civic organizations. As a design-build studio, our work and our faculty, staff, and students are situated within the local community. Even with our decades of work in Hale County, we will always be guests here. Our community partners, the residents who lead their communities, must speak for the local needs, not us. Rather than build what we can build, we rely on community partners to cultivate our understanding of what we should build. These long-term partnerships likely blossom into friendships between the partners and the students and faculty on project teams.