halecounty

In Hale County

Yep! We’ve been here the whole semester! It’s time, dear reader, to spill the beans on our comings and goings, our hopes and dreams, our successes and failures, and our project. Come on in, make yourself comfortable. Pour a hot cup of tea, listen to our story. The tale of Rev. Walker’s Home project team is only the beginning.

Field with cows in Hale County
A common sight in Hale County

Our journey, as 5th-year Rural Studio students, begins in Hale County, in August. The county is a sparsely populated, tapering rectangle in West-central Alabama. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains find their end in the northeast corner of the county. The densely forested rolling hills of the northeast quickly give way to the astonishingly flat plains known as the “Black Belt.” This area is named for the rich soil that is optimal for cultivation. Greensboro is the centrally located county seat populated by 2,291 residents. Ten miles south of Greensboro on Alabama Highway 61 is Newbern, home to Rural Studio headquarters. In Newbern, the beloved Red Barn, can be found. Red Barn, the workspace where the us Rural Studio students put pens to paper. We spend a lot of time in Red Barn, and its leaky windows and visibly tilted walls endear us to it.

Rev. Walker’s Project Team hard at work in Red Barn

The beginning of each semester at Rural Studio is marked by “neck-downs.” Neck-downs defines a time dedicated to maintenance of studio grounds, small projects, and the assistance of teams whose projects are in the construction phase. This Fall, neck-downs included repairing facilities at Perry Lakes Park in neighboring Perry County, assisting the Horseshoe Hub Courtyard team on their site, and taking care of odds-and-ends on Morrissette Campus. Typically, neck-downs lasts one week. This year, it was extended and incorporated into our studio schedule. Some of the work is ongoing and gives us moments throughout the week to put away the pencil and pull out the shovel. “healthy bodies, healthy minds” our captain, Andrew Freear, likes to say.

Simultaneously with the site-work around the area, our entire 5th-year student cadre worked to further the exploration into post-frame structures and formulate a thesis. The idea, first proposed by the 2020-2021 outreach master’s team, uses a post-frame structure to reduce construction cost and timeline. Our charge is to take the system and the efforts of the outreach team and expand on it in two didactic ways. We started by touring past projects around the county, exploring ancient barn structures, and documenting local building trends.

Becca enjoys Michelle’s Home

Taking note of the trend in the area to expand one’s home as means and needs allow, the 5th-year thesis project’s has developed into two expansion approaches. One strategy is a home underneath a large roof, provided by a post-frame structure, on an expansive foundation that will enable an owner to quickly add enclosure without compromising structure. This is Rev. Walker’s Home strategy. The other is a home that encourages interior expansion and customization by bringing the post frame structure into the envelope of the home. This is the Myers’ Home strategy.

Diagram of Reverend Walkers Home
Reverend Walker’s Home

Our team is designing and will be building Rev. Walker’s Home. This team was chosen in an age-old ritual, of which here I will not tell. We like to think of ourselves as hardworking, strong-willed, opinionated individuals who can even be considered fun. I am, of course, the leader of this motley crew. My name is Taterhead the Cat. I enjoy drooling on unexpecting scratch-givers and surveying my land, which Rev. Walker’s Home will occupy. I am a skilled delegator. My leadership style is strict yet fair, and I expect only the best work from my team.

The Site Cat being scratched by student
Team Leader: Taterhead the Cat Purrveyor of Wisdom

Here’s the rest of them: Becca, George, Paul and Addie. Becca has a three-legged cat named Rocko and is the maker of the fantastic yellow hats seen above. George is just a dude with no distinct personality traits. (Editor’s note: This is an unfair representation of George, a very impassioned individual.) Paul likes to spend his time collecting objects from the ground. He likes sheds. Addie has a dog named Pat. She drives the biggest truck in Hale County.

Pictures of the four student team

It will not be an easy path to walk with this lot. Their refusals of scratch-giving will be met with reprimand. But rest easy, dear reader, for I am at the helm and will guide the ship to clear waters. My hope for this journal is to provide a clear account of our journey to the edge and back, and to bring you along with us.

Until next time – Taterhead.

25th Anniversary Celebration

Rural Studio celebrated its 25th anniversary last weekend during the annual Pig Roast festivities. With nearly 300 visitors from around the world, the special event tripled the town’s population! The 100-mile journey led visitors to projects from Moundville, Greensboro, Faunsdale, and Newbern.

Fireworks during the Pig Roast

The day began with hot biscuits and coffee as visitors admired the beautiful watercolors on display from Dick Hudgens’ class of 3rd-year students. The tour of projects began with a long drive up to Moundville Archaeological Park to see the design and mockup from the four 5th-year students who are building a new pavilion for the park, which will be tucked in the woods along the edge of the campground near the ancient Native American mounds. Next the caravan led visitors to Greensboro to see the remarkable work from two 5th-year “leftover” teams: the mockup of Project Horseshoe Farm’s new courtyard behind their headquarters on Main Street in the historic Greensboro Hotel and the Horseshoe Homes project, a new home for three women on South Street. Then Rural Studio’s farm manager, Eric Ball, and adjunct professor, Elena Barthel, took visitors on a magical tour of the Rural Studio Farm and Greenhouse. Visitors enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by Chef Cat, which included fresh food from the farm.

After lunch everyone learned about the research from the team of 5th-year students working on the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project. Next the caravan headed south to Faunsdale to see the recently completed 5th-year project, the Faunsdale Community Center, then headed back north towards Newbern for a presentation at 20Kv23 Anna’s Home by one of the current 5th-year teams. The parade to Newbern led visitors back to Chantilly for a walking tour to the 3rd-year project, a home for Mrs. Patrick. The final student project on the tour was 20Kv22, from one of our 5th-year “leftover” teams. The tour ended with a gorgeous display of built chairs by Steve Long’s woodshop class and chair drawings from Elena Barthel’s 5th-year drawing class. Dinner included fried catfish, from Mustang Oil, and BBQ cooked by our 3rd-year students. Accompanying dinner was music from the Alabama Blues Project Advanced Band. Special thanks to Mac Spencer for firing a great shower of Whiffle Dust out of a cannon over the amphitheater.

The evening ceremony began with opening remarks from Newbern’s Mayor, Woody Stokes, followed by the Head of Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, Christian Dagg. A special thanks to our honored guests Jackie Mockbee, Linda Ruth, Kyle Platt, Thelma Brown, Louise Scott, Gwen Melton, Barbara Williams, and Suzanne and Robert McKee. One of the greatest honors of the day was having families of both of Rural Studio’s founders Sambo Mockbee and D.K. Ruth part of the special 25th anniversary day.

The valediction speech was from surprise guests and superstars Billie Tsien and Tod Williams from Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in New York, NY. The night ended with a spectacular display of fireworks and music from Debbie Bonds with Radiator Rick and featuring Little Jimmy Reed that had us dancing into the night.  

We were proud to see the Newbern Library open for the occasion with a book and t-shirt sale to help fundraise for the library. Newbern’s newest business, Sweetbriar Coffee, was a welcomed treat, keeping us fueled with delicious teas and coffee. The Newbern Mercantile stayed busy with visitors and, as usual, helped to support us. Thanks to all of our neighbors and supporters for welcoming everyone.

And finally, thanks to all of the generous Pig Roast sponsors: Alabama Power, JAS Design, Aercon Technologies, Michael Harrow Realty, Johnston-Torbert House, Holmestead Company, Price Drywall, Cedar Ridge Excavating, Citizens Bank, City Furniture, Dozier Hardware, Fuller Supermarket, Hotel & Restaurant Supply, Newbern Mercantile, Peoples Bank of Greensboro, Piggly Wiggly, The Partridge Berry, the Smelley Family, Windham Motor Co., and Wood Fruittcher.

We want to thank the continued support of the college, our community, and our donors; without them none of this would be possible.