#designbuild

The Biggest Puzzle in Hale County

Exciting times at the Horseshoe Courtyard, after cleaning nearly 4,000 bricks, the brick pad is finally coming to life! The team and their helpers began laying bricks to create an intricate, hard surface in the main courtyard space.

Begining corner of brick pad

First, the team made a wooden frame of 2″x 6″ lumber staked into the ground which created a perimeter. This perimeter frame acted as a tray for the sand, which built up underneath the bricks. The sand is tamped and leveled, creating an even surface on which to lay the bricks. Also, the frame acts as a guide, keeping the entire pad square.

A Puzzling Pattern

Diagram of brick pattern

After filling small sections of the frame with leveled, tamped sand the bricklaying begins. The team chose a basket weave pattern for the brick pad. However, it was not until all the bricks were cleaned and sorted that the team understood the variety of shades and sizes of the material. How these different bricks filled the pattern added another layer of complexity. The basketweave pattern is made-up of “squares” which contain eight specific bricks of different colors, sizes, and textures.

So, within the designed pattern, the most important rules were aligning the outer edges of the “squares”, keeping gaps between bricks small, and leveling the bricks to the height of the neighboring concrete. Seen above is the final pattern which contains red, brown, burgundy, orange, and grooved bricks. Some are large, some are small, but together they create a dynamic pattern.

As the brick pad kept growing, Dr.Dorsey would stop by and test out the future dance floor. However, when he didn’t dance away quick enough, the Horseshoe Courtyard team put him to work spreading out sand between the finished bricks!

Once the brick pad is complete, metal edging will keep the bricks in place. As mentioned earlier, the brick pad surface will be level to the concrete for seamless access to the main courtyard space. The brick pad is crucial to the flexibility of the courtyard design, giving a hard surface for outdoor activies such as Dr. Dorsey’s dancing.

More Frames

Time for a throwback! Recently, the team picked up the last of their fabricated metal pieces. This included the railing, grinder pump cover, and bench legs. They took all these pieces to be galvanized, after some on-site welding on the grinder pump cover. Keep checking in to see the Horseshoe Courtyard Project continue to transform.

Tieing, Training, and Framing

The Horseshoe Courtyard steel screen frames are filling up! With help from the 3rd-years, more rope laced through the metal frames, leaving space for the steel cables which complete the screen patterns. The cables are placed every 5th perforation and function as an auxiliary support system for the vines. In the process, the steel cables visually transform the rhythm of the screen.

Showing Them the Ropes

While both the Carolina Jessamine and the Confederate Jasmine, are twining plants that will organically grow up the screens, a little help goes a long way. By training the recently planted vines around the rope and cable, they can begin to cover the screen more evenly. In a few years, the stems of the vines will become woodier, and they will become their own structure. Until then the ropes and cables are their support.

Illuminating the Courtyard

Since the last lighting mock-up, the courtyard gained ropes and vines which affect the lighting on the south end. As seen above, there are also more trees, short screens, and a mock-up of the concrete wall. To account for these new elements, the team added more lights to the scheme to see how it changed the space.

Last Brick Pallet!

In the past four months, with the help of 35 Rural Studio students and Horseshoe Farm Fellow, 3,800 bricks have now been cleaned! All salvaged, the bricks came from the site or a home in Selma, Alabama. A typical dig on Horseshoe Courtyard reveals a couple of bricks or an old foundation wall from a previous structure. Luckily all that cleaning is over with, and the team can now begin the brick pad! The team graded the site and removed access soil in order to stack the bricks beneath the trees. This way, the bricks will be with in reach when laying the pad pattern.

Walls Going Up

The courtyard team also started the porch framing! Seen above, the western porch stud wall attaches directly to the existing brick wall. Knee walls hang from the eiling strucuture, to span studs across to the south brick wall. Next for the porch is the eastern wall, re-hanging the double doors, and sheathing all the new stud walls. After this, the whole thing will be covered with exterior dry-wall.

Trees and the Double Overhand Knot

It’s time to thread the ropes through the Horseshoe Courtyard Project steel screens. Before all the rope could be installed, it was necessary to prep the lengths of rope per screen panel. Each tall screen consists of five segments that need 75 feet of rope. The shorter screens need 37 feet. Once the set of ropes was ready, a segment of rope was feed through the perforations and the first knot formed. Once that run of rope was threaded through; A wire stretcher was used to pull the whole segment taut while the last knot was tied. Then the excess rope was cut and carefully burned at the end, to keep it from unraveling.

Image of girl tieing rope behind screen

Different types of knots were tested to secure the rope to the bottom of the screen before the panels were infilled. The criteria for the type of knot chosen included both aesthetics and ease of replication. consequently, the team chose the Double Overhand Knot ( close-up above).

Soon after the rope was finished in each screen panel, one or two people began to train the jasmine vines to wrap and climb the ropes. The jasmine was trained by carefully untangling the vines and twining them around then ropes. From time to time, flagging tape was tied around the vine and it’s rope to hold it in place while it grows up to its new home.

Grouting the footings

On a Tuesday morning, with the help of the TMBV team, the footing plates were grouted. The forms were re-used from the previous grouting job, on the tall screens.

Trench in-fill

A few days after the grout set, the Horseshoe Courtyard team, the 3rd-Years, and Mason filled the trench with soil for the vines. When the trench was filled about halfway, a new PEX line for the spigots was laid. Once the spigots were in place the rest of the PEX was buried with more soil.

All Trees Planted!

The day is finally here, the day where all thirteen Natchez Crepe Myrtles are happily and fully transplanted!! After many weeks of anticipation, digging, and moving dirt, one can see how the courtyard is transformed by the trees. For now, beautiful shadows are cast by the tree branches; however, it is easy to imagine the day when the tree canopy creates much-needed shade on a summer day.

The One where the Short Screens Went Up

students pouring concrete

The Horseshoe Courtyard project team completed their sixth concrete pour on site! The team was incredibly excited to finally pour the footing for the eight-foot screens on the north end. Thanks to Andrew and Mason, the team got the job done in one morning’s time.

Shortly after the concrete cured, the team and helpers started prepping for the steel footings that connect the screens to the concrete. First, they pulled the batter board lines to find and mark the middle point for the footing. This ensures that the screens line up with the project’s five-foot grid. Second, holes were drilled in the concrete. These holes were filled with threaded rods and epoxied in place. Third, wooden templates were places on the threaded rods to hold them in place and keep track of the curing time. After the rods were set and the concrete fully cured the templates were removed. Lastly, the metal footings were placed on the washers and nuts and the plates were leveled.

Two more trees in the ground

Before the last screens could be bolted in place, the last two trees in the “calm space” were brought in. However, they could not be fully planted until after the screens were in place. Once the trees were in their new home, they were shored up to keep them steady until the trench was filled.

North end taking shape

view from beacon alley

In a single afternoon, with the help of 3rd-year students, and Dr.Dorsey, all eight short screens were raised and bolted into place! The following day, they were all aligned and leveled to each other and to the walkway railings. This was possible due to the oversized holes in the footing plate and that it had not been grouted yet. Grout coming up, next week!

Roadtrip for the vines

planting pattern
CJ= Carolina Jessamine, SJ= Star Jasmine. The dotted green line indicates the planting pattern that was chosen. The Jessamine tends to shoot up quicker, while the Jasmine, grows slower but more full.

Another exciting day last week was when the team took a trip to a nursery in Montogmery to pick up the vines! They picked up 60 potted plants. 25 three-gallon Confederate/ Star Jasmine, 15 one-gallon Star/Confederate Jasmine, and 20 three-gallon Carolina Jessamine. The design incorporates the two different vines because of their different growth patterns and blooms. Since the ratio of the two types of vines is 2:1, there needed to be some type of planting pattern that also took into account the plant size variation. Once all the vines were unloaded on-site, the team created a system that placed the taller vines in desired locations and spread out the younger plants. The vines were planted three per screen, to increase the density of the vegetation.

Tamping Down and Lighting Up

View of trees and slate from walkway
Slate gravel is the finished surface under the tree canopy and around the brick pad on the South end of the site.

This week, the team unloaded 22 super-sacks of slate, from Rockmart Georgia! Half of these sacks consisted of “Trail Mix” which makes up the first two-inch layer of material. And the “Mini chips” that will be the top two inches are the finish grade. While both generally look the same, the Trail Mix has fines, which function as mulch, while the Mini chips are less powdery, compact better, and decreases the chances of weeds going through the surface. The team, and helpers, set to spreading and hand tamping the first layer of slate around the recently planted trees. While students spread the slate, they placed markers between the trees to ensure that the site continued to slope towards the north end of the site.

Lighting talks and studies

One of the important aspects of the courtyard is its flexibility in usage; both throughout the seasons, as well as at different times of the day. Keeping that in mind elevates the importance of lights in the courtyard. Luckily, the Studio had a visit from Thomas Paterson, a lighting consultant from Mexico City’s LuxPopuli! Thomas showed a couple of projects he and his office has worked on, how they approach lighting design, and some strategies the team could test out in the courtyard. After the lecture, everyone headed to the courtyard site to see those strategies applied to the existing lighting mock-up.

Trench for north screens

As the team moved further north on the site, they had to consider the implications of having a trench separating the spaces. Consequently, before the team planted the trees, they moved the sand for the brick pad by the tall screens. And before the Bobcat could no longer be driven in, bricks and slate were relocated beneath the trees. Shortly after that, Tyler returned to the site one last time, with his Mini-excavator. In one morning’s time Tyler and Ashton, his assistant, dug up the trench and hauled off the excavated dirt from the site. Simultaneously, students salvaged close to a hundred bricks, from the pile of dirt coming out the trench. Many were previously part of foundation walls for the buildings that used to be on the site.

After Tyler left, students quickly prepared the reinforcement of the concrete. While tying the rebar, the team made sure that it matched with the placement of the metal footings for the screens. They did so, like always, by pulling batter board lines across space.