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A Responsible Return to Rural Studio

3rd years sit masked in the fabrication pavilion before eating lunch

The 3rd-year students are back in Newbern! Find out what they’re planning this semester in their first blog post here!

Out of Site

This week 3rd-years were introduced to two of their other courses taken at Rural Studio: Shop with Stephen Long and History with Dick Hudgens. While traditionally the Shop class focuses on a long-term project centered on the study and construction of a famous chair, this year students will be focusing on three smaller projects that can all be done during shop time. This will allow students to study wood construction more broadly as well as design some of the projects they are working on.

Dick Hudgens introduced his course with a bang as students walked around downtown Newbern making sketches of adjacent buildings and starting to learn some on-site drawing techniques. Similar to Long’s course adjustments, Hudgens has also adjusted the course syllabus to allow for more social distancing and safe meetings. As a result, all students drive their own cars to different historical sites and focus has been shifted from watercolor to more hand-drawing techniques.

20K Ophelia’s Home

Despite a rainy start to the semester, 3rd-years were able to get back onto 20K Ophelia’s Home project site mid-week on the first working week of the semester. Due to COVID-19 regulations in Spring 2020, progress on-site was sadly halted. However, these returning students and faculty have been eager to continue to work on this Rural Studio project. During the first few days on-site, 3rd-years were able to clean up the site and sort through materials in order to catalog how much material had been lost to weathering. 

With a new clean site, 3rd-years began prepping for the next week’s of work by building an on-site pin-up board as well as covering any exposed materials in preparation for another weekend of rain. Neither the rain nor the COVID-19 guidelines can dampen the spirits of the eager 3rd-years as they start the semester full of excitement and anticipation.

Students and instructors pose on site after a long day of work

Fabrication Pavilion

During what students and faculty loving refer to as “neck-down week,” a group of 3rd-years spent the week cleaning the fabrication pavilion and the yard in front of Morrisette House. While cleaning might not seem like the most glamorous task, it was a necessary task. The satisfaction that came with seeing a clean, beautiful pavilion was well worth the work. With an organized campus, the students are ready to start building.

3rd-Year’s Wood Shop Class is on the Chopping Block

Steve Long demonstrates how to safely use the planer

For the 3rd-year students, each semester begins by getting familiar with the Rural Studio Wood Shop and all it has to offer. The shop is very basic in the tools that it’s equipped with. So, students have to be creative in how they use each tool.

To kick off the class, the first task is to make a wooden cutting board in the shop. Each student is given three small pieces of cherry and walnut wood. After that, the limits are endless. With only the constraints of what is available in the shop, the design is up to whatever anyone wants to try.

By allowing the class to begin at a small scale, the cutting board project provides the opportunity to use and get familiar with all of the tools in the shop before moving to a larger and more difficult scale: cabinetry scale. The assignment also begins to facilitate an understanding of what it’s like to work with wood, which also proves helpful when the students work on the framing for Ophelia’s Home. Because there’s so much possibility, it’s always exciting to see the end result for each cutting board!

“I Say Goodbye, You Say Hello”

The end of the semester was a hustle and last hoorah for the fall semester 3rd-Year team. The students were sentimental (and maybe a little stressed) as they finished projects, and assignments and prepared to showcase their semester in one final review. And even though it felt like it was never going to happen, they got to start building a house!!

When it came time for the pour, excitement filled the air as the concrete truck back into Ophelia’s driveway. One full day of pushing and pulling and shoveling and smoothing with just about all the strength the students had to give. The 3rd-Years then drilled into the concrete footing to place and grout vertical rebar.

When the block layers came, everything went off without a hitch! The 3rd-Years got to watch the masters at work, and even help on occasion. Finally, the students then filled the allotted cells of the CMU wall with concrete and placed anchor bolts for next semester to bolt the sill on the foundation wall. And of course, cleaning up the site all along the way.

Oh, and the quilt, the magnificent quilt. The student’s final block iterations were sewn together, a quilt back was made with extra material from the naturally dyed fabric and a layer of cotton and polyester batting (yes kind of like insulation) was sandwiched between the sewn top and bottom. 

The students then basted the sandwich (quick, temporary seams) and made a PVC Pipe frame to hold all the layers together while each student intricately “quilted” area of their own block together to make one cohesive blanket. A border was made and all 13 of the students sat around the Morrisette dining table to whip stitch the edges of the quilt closed, while watching The Grinch and drinking hot chocolate. :,) 

The last class for the 3rd-Year’s History elective as a day long trip to Columbus, MS. The students ended like they began, seeing and sketching the southern vernacular with their wise captain, Dick Hudgens. They were then left to their own devises to finish their final watercolors, and they all, miraculously, finished! The pieces illustrated what the 3rd-years had learned about composition, color, fine water coloring techniques, and the influence of classical design on historic Montgomery homes. The works were displayed in the Morrissette House during the annual Soup Roast, as tradition holds.

Soup Roast bookended the fall semester 3rd-Years’ time at Rural Studio. They got to take one last tour around Hale County to see the amazing 5th-years, graduate students, and leftovers projects. Then, the finally of Soup Roast, the 3rd-Year’s presentation!

The students got feedback from their reviewers about their mechanical exhaust ventilation crawl space foundation (yup that’s a mouthful) and how they approached multiple residents moving into the product line homes. The 3rd-Years presented their ¼ bedroom or “nook” design in Joanne’s modified home through a built mock-up out of 2×6’s and pin up boards, so everyone could see and experience what the space will feel like.

Also, the final quilt was revealed! The students explained the premise of the class and had a conversation with the crowd about how this unconventional representation method expands our understanding of a project, the process of design, and cultivated empathy, in this case with Ophelia. The parade of students, architects, parents, teachers and friends then walked to the project site for Ophelia’s 20K too see the physical progress so far and meet Ophelia! The 13 3rd-Years returned to the site the next day to say goodbye and present her with the final quilt (she was surprised and very grateful). 

The next day, the students packed up the pods, said goodbye to Chastity the mouse and Cupcake the possum, then drove/ flew across the globe to get home, but left with a lot of love in their hearts for Hale County and each other. The fall students felt the honor of borrowing Rural Studio and Newbern as their home for 3 ½ months. For that, they will be forever thankful. Now Ophelia’s 20K is handed over to the spring semester students!

War Eagle to that!  

Happy Halloween Reviews

The Halloween Reviews week is here! This week for the big review, the 3rd-years presented their 20K design and research for 20K Ophelia’s Home. Much of the busy week was spent in preparation for the Thursday review and their group costume, the “Last Supper.”

The 3rd-years finished their final quilting blocks in the elective class just in time to be hung and presented alongside their initial renderings. Aaron Head (local artist) returned to lead a sticking workshop on Wednesday as the students begin the process of actually “quilting” the quilt top, batting, and bottom together. Those couple hours of stitching were so peaceful, a pleasant break from studio work.

As Halloween grew closer, the students rapidly worked to finalize plan details, construction documents, and presentation flow.

On that hallowed day, guest reviewers Marlon Blackwell, Mike Newman, and Katrina Van Valkenburgh, alongside Rural Studio faculty, probed the students about the decisions they made behind their work, gave insightful critiques, and encouraged the 3rd-years in their research to improve the design of 20K Ophelia’s Home. Overall the review was a success! 

And the students did enjoy itself all the while! The reviews of the 5th-year and master’s students were extremely interesting and engaging (not typically a word used to describe review days) and it was great to see what the rest of Red Barn was up to. Tuesday was the annual community Pumpkin Carve with the Halloween celebrations and costume contest on Thursday. The disciples definitely enjoyed themselves. 

Presenting Ophelia’s Home

October 9, Ophelia’s Home was decided! The last two product line homes the 3rd-year studio considered were Mac’s and Joanne’s and the cut was made after a final sprint of drawings and a group discussion Wednesday morning. The 3rd-year students will be building an iteration of Joanne’s home for their client Ophelia.

The very same day the students presented their plans to Ophelia and her family. Here’s to last minute decisions! 

The 3rd-years set up their work on site, and Ophelia, her family, and Mrs. Patrick (last year’s 20K client and Ophelia’s neighbor) sat outside while the students presented Joanne’s Home and the specifics of how and why this home would be best for Ophelia.

The presentation included technical drawings but also a site model and with a version of Joanne’s that Ophelia could keep. The group then moved around the property to podiums of perspectives for the client to look and see the potential views of her new home from various vantage points.

The presentation to Ophelia concluded by walking through a one-to-one mock up of the new home where the students plan to build it, showing every rooms and the views from every window.

The 3rd-years are so excited to have chosen a home for Ophelia and she is so happy with the one they chose! And on that note, both are ready to build! Stay tuned as the studio takes their design into the dirt.