How To Fill A Wall

The latest is in from the Myers’ Home project site! The team has squared away interior framing and are close to debuting their windows. This means it’s about time for the house to get its nerve center. The Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing train is leaving the station in Newbern.

Becoming Plumbers…

With Riley offsite in the woodshop working on the custom window units, Madeline and Judith have been at the helm on site for the past few weeks. Madeline is taking the reins on plumbing the whole house, and ducting it too! Judith has got the power alongside her, running electrical wires, installing outlet and switch boxes, sorting circuits, and labeling everything.

The plumbing contains stub-outs to the attic space allowing a bathroom to be built for future generations. These are beside the water heater, also in the attic to save space in the downstairs. Electrical decisions were also based on rooms that could serve different purposes across generations. Dedicated circuits are in place for AC units and the home is treated in zones of use.

Lighting the Way

This also entails a discussion in lighting the house, helped along by a new consultant to the Studio, Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi in Mexico City.

The flexible nature of Myers’ Home doesn’t stop at the plan, section, or material finishes. The team’s been applying their goal of generational expansion and flexibility to the lights in the house too. The home was studied in zones to determine lighting strategies, and tools (fixtures) were chosen to achieve these. The team is working to balance task lighting and spot lighting with the necessary amount of immediate switched light in a space.

The team mirrored lighting and fan locations in each zone for alignment no matter the scheme of flex walls. They then worked to place lights in the core such that it remains a hearth and can be the main source of immediate light in the home.

As these folks press on with electrical work, they’ll begin to test how to optimize the tools they’ve chosen for each flexible space.

It’s Getting Hot in Here…

Drywall looms and Myers’ Home Team must consider all that the wall must hold before it is sealed up. Wires and pipes have been run, the lights are set in their places. It’s time to stuff if full of foam and fiberglass. The insulation line for Myers’ Home is at the roof. This requires five and a half inches of spray-in, open-cell insulation. It’s one of the few jobs that the Studio hires out. Meanwhile, the team put up blocking framing upstairs and left the premises for a day. Upon return, the attic was cool as a cucumber and ready for windows.

The original intention for the home was to install a flash-and-batt insulation system downstairs. However, foam prices are cost-prohibitive and the team moved forward with Rockwool insulation in downstairs walls. Madeline, Riley, and volunteer Bess from Project Horseshoe Farm knocked out the ground floor in just a couple mornings!

Sheetrock City

The team put some quick blocking in place and documented each wall before making the call for sheetrock. The crew arrived first thing and got to it. By lunchtime, the first layer of finishes were all in place. All that remains for drywall is mudding and sanding to smooth everything over.


Much of this happened over the course of Neckdown weekwhere new students knock out work around Hale County using, arguably, everything but their heads. Myers’ Home played host to a few helpers who helped begin more layers of finish materials in and out of the home. Many thanks to new 5th-year students Jackie, Hailey, Davis, Brenton, and Caitlyn, as well as 3rd-years Peter and Laura!

Window units ready to show their faces soon! In the meantime, the home is being battened down with flashing and prepped for siding as the summer slides on by. Check out Myers’ Home team’s brethren over at Rev. Walker’s Home as they also install windows and siding. Or jump to the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation crew for some big moves upward! Best to all, over and out.

Fall 2021 Neckdown Week

three young people stand together smiling wearing hard hats and harneses

This semester, Neckdown Week was as productive as ever, with the sun shining on us all week long. Neckdown is a studio tradition, during which all students and faculty work together to mend, clean up, or push forward our past and current projects. This time around we worked on student projects in Newbern and sent teams all the way out to Perry Lakes Park in Marion, AL.

At Perry Lakes Park, we cleaned up debris from a big storm that hit the park last year. We also worked on the plumbing for the bathrooms, which included a lot of digging. And we mean A LOT. Up on the Perry Lakes Birding Tower, we finally completed our objective of replacing all the rotten boards that we began removing during Neckdown last year! We hope all of you will be able to come visit the beautiful park as soon as it reopens in the very near future.

Back in good ole Newbern, teams of helpers working a several maintenance projects at our headquarters at Morrisette House. A few teams also worked alongside Eric at the Rural Studio Farm constructing raised garden beds. These beds, made from concrete blocks, are very time consuming to build correctly, and our helpers worked hard in the sun to make them look good and function well! We’d also like to give a shoutout and a big thank you to all of the Auburn University Landscape Architecture students and faculty who came out to Hale County to help us nourish Rural Studio’s outdoor spaces. The AULA cohort not only helped out at the Farm and Morrisette property, but they also worked in our courtyards in downtown Newbern and at Lion’s Park in Greensboro. Our plants and ground surfaces would not be as happy as they have been lately without you all. Thank you!

Our recent graduates also took advantage of a few Neckdown helpers this week to make some progress finishing up their projects! With assistance from new 3rd and 5th-year’s capable hands, our three “leftover” teams accomplished a huge amount of work! The Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team constructed two sets of stairs that lead down into their cooling porch. They also worked on installing battens on the exterior of their Research Pods!

The Myers’ Home team installed tongue-and-groove cypress boards on their interior core walls, and they worked with their helpers to nail their exterior flashing in place. Siding is coming up next for these folks. At Rev. Walker’s Home site, the team completed a massive amount of earth work in order to prep their site for its final grading. This process also included creating an outdoor gravel patio for their client to create a smooth transition from concrete slab to the adjacent ground surface.

Thank you to all the students, staff, and faculty that made all of this work possible this week!

Mains, Drains, and Automobiles

Myers’ Home team is on the run! They’re setting utilities, laying plumbing, and picking up materials as construction ramps up!

Rainbows and lightning galore

These folks had a review last week with Jake LaBarre to refine the building set contents. (Kudos to Riley, emerging expert in construction drawing formatting!) These are drawings that the team references during construction for just about everything. With updated documents in hand, they’re dodging rain and wind for spots of sun on site.

Meeting with Jake LaBarre, from Newbern to Seattle!

Power Trip

To power their saws, charge up those drills, and keep the tunes playing the team had to set up a temporary power pole. With Judith driving the trailer as Bobcat Delivery Girl and Madeline manning the joysticks on site, the pole was set and power nearly ready to connect.

Pipe dreams? Not so much.

Before the foundation slab can be poured, utilities are run, gravel leveled, and formwork is set. To begin work on utilities, more batter boards were constructed in order for the plumbing and electrical to be properly placed. These boards sit between the batter boards which mark the footprint of the home, they mark where pipes will emerge from the slab.

The team marked the utility lines on the tamped earth and began trenching for, first, plumbing and, above that, electrical conduit.

Next, they simultaneously begin dry fitting the joints and noting the lengths of pipe needed in the trench (cut a little long!). Throughout this they sloped the pipe in the trench and checked with the site level to ensure proper drainage.

Seal the deal

Following a successful drainage test, the team began assembling and gluing small length pipes, the shower run, washer, and toilet. After that, they dry-fit to the main drain. They triple-checked the pipes, marked for re-fitting, and primed purple. Finally, the team began sealing with the bright blue plumbing glue.

Madeline and Riley marking and gluing pipe segments

With everything in place, they began re-leveling and aligning the pipes with the position of future stud walls. As sunset approached the trenches were finally re-filled and the new utilities tucked in for the night.

One slab, comin’ right up!

The final steps before that long-awaited concrete truck’s journey to Newbern are gravel and formwork. The home’s footprint will be completed in two pours, one upcoming for the 24′ x 40′ interior, and another for the 8′ x 40′ porch slab.

The house, as of late.

In the coming days, the team will be cutting and setting the formwork for the slab and ordering gravel to level the area before the blessed arrival of sweet, sweet concrete. Hang tight to get the scoop! Over and out.

I Just Gantt Do It, Captain!

Want to get the low-down on details for Myers’ Home? Look no further! These kids have broken ground, but that doesn’t mean their work stops in studio. The team has focused attention on details the last few weeks with site work interspersed.

Details are drawn full scale, reviewed, drawn again, and again

Draw it big!

In true Rural Studio fashion, every inch and corner is designed with intention and iteration. While the first aim is to keep the home warm and dry, these layers can meet all sorts of ways. It’s these joints that will also give the house a language. It can read as planes, solids, thin, thick, anyway through the treatment of joints and surfaces.

Drawing details full scale allows the team to grasp the size of the materials they’re specifying. The team can trace vapor and water barriers through the wall sections to find gaps.

Breaking the Shell

Myers’ Home is a protected shell, as such any punctures must be deliberate. The exposed edges created when the shell is pierced are strengthened against environmental elements. To evaluate the layered seals to the punctures, the team has drawn every opening connection in the home.

Myers’ Home team is currently designing a window system that is more durable and efficient than common windows in this context. This system will combine a fixed window for lighting, smaller fiberglass operable window for ventilation, and a window AC unit with a universal sleeve.

Ventilation, light, and AC concentrated to puncture points

Grouping these elements reduces punctures in the shell to single pre-fabricated unit that will be produced with precision in a shop, like cabinetry. A shop-built cypress “box” will hold the pieces together and be far more dimensionally stable than typical stud framing.

A review of the shop-built window system with Dan Wheeler

The team reviewed these details with Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects and adjusted accordingly. Next up, mockup! The students will build the refined window unit in the shop with the intention that it be used in Myers’ Home. Another 1:1 mockup is being designed as a small scale replica of the home’s details. It is a reference library where the team will test flashing, siding, and roof details.

The Big Move

To begin regular site work Myers’ Home team needs to know just what they’ll be doing each week. This means writing and updating a Gantt Chart, the comprehensive calendar of the project’s construction.

A weekly schedule annotated by the team
Myers’ Home Gantt chart in Red Barn, edited by week with site work and order details

They also must identify just what tools they’ll need. Building process is drawn from surveying through drying in — when the home is enclosed and weather-sealed. And in cartoon form!

Meanwhile, tools have been inventoried and assigned to newly organized tool trailers. If nothing else, a team can control the state of its tool trailer.

Myers’ Home is leaping into a fresh Hale County spring with high hopes! Until next time.

Madeline, Judith, and Riley: jumping for joy.

Up We Go!

Hey! The gang’s all here, welcome back.

Myers' Home team at a mockup
from left: Riley Boles, Madeline Ray, Robbin Reese, Judith Seaman

A dignified home is not a luxury. For the past 27 years, Rural Studio has been refining an architectural approach to affordability and durability in housing of the rural South. The Myers’ Home team is working to make that home last for generations and changes to fit the family within. This is being pursued through interiorized expansion, capacity for multiple bedroom types, and varying states of material finish.

A cycle of generations through the home

Can a dignified home be built to be serve a client, their children, even grandchildren, through inheritance? Myers’ Home team has been taking a look at how homes expand in rural contexts like Hale County, and there’s quite a tendency to grow. Homes spread to fill the property with additions built as a family is able. The team looked to local precedent like Jim Walter Homes, a regional kit home similar to Sears Roebuck homes, that acted as a shell. The unfinished interior can be designed and changed by the owner, fitting their needs.

Both 2020-2021 5th-Year student project teams are exploring comprehensive solutions to the issues that arise from ad-hoc expansions. Rather than attaching new structure to a starter home, often a kit-type or mobile home, the team wants to know how expansions might be contained in the shell of the one, original structure. Dubbed the shell expansion method, Myers’ Home team is designing a protective home that can change within the boundaries of the original structure to accommodate varying family demographics and needs over generations. One of the most exciting developments for the studio thus far though has been, *drumroll*, the attic truss. That’s right folks, a two-story home. Want more space for the same footprint? Go up!

The attic truss system and resultant second floor space

But how to begin? The four Myer’s Home teammates determined what conditions were imperative to the home’s function. In terms of a flexible generational home, spaces that can host a variety of activity and establish thresholds of social and private space through the home.

To reach the attic a stair was needed, this created a limited framework to operate within. It needed to align with the trusses above to meet building code for enough head height above the landing. Centering the stair gave easiest access to both sides of the attic for the most flexible room solutions and was the most accessible location through changes to the surrounding rooms.

The home has thresholds that shift between social and private space

With these in mind, plans were drawn up, tested and re-tested. Quick mockups of different furniture layouts in the Red Barn determined appropriate sizes of rooms depending on Fair Housing Act (FHA) standards and varying furniture sizes.

Early plan sketches before refining stair placement

The porch has also been a source of great debate. More mockups were constructed to test options seen in past Rural Studio projects as well as the context of the rural South. After getting a feel for the options, the team moved towards Stress Test in November with some decisions to make and plenty to discuss!

The teams’ weeks were interspersed with reviews with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Julie Eizenberg, Marlon Blackwell, and our own Auburn faculty. Through these critiques we came to two leading contenders for the plan and section. Both are post frame homes roughly 900 square feet with a 10/12 pitch roof. Both homes also contained a clear bedroom, and a “room without a name,” one that could begin with or without a dividing wall. It could serve, alongside the attic, as the first step in interiorized expansion for shifting family needs.

Two of the final plan options as 1 or 2 bedroom options following Stress Test, their last stand

The plans made it through Stress Test nearly whole, yahoo! But the review following brought to light holes in the plan and a whole new approach. With Marlon Blackwell, Jake LaBarre, Emily Taylor, and Emily McGlohn, the team came to the conclusion that both options were just too darn prescriptive! For true flexibility there has to be more than one flexible space, the team ought to make the whole house shift-able! Back to the drawing board they go, to find the flex.

The most constraining part of the previous plans were the walls. So how can the prescription be replaced with prediction? Ding ding, optional walls! How else? Group the utilities in a core! Take a look at just how that all works together…

Myers’ Home is fairly small scale, clocking in around 900 square feet inside with a 6 foot porch. The short interior width of 24 feet allows that amazing attic truss to span with no load-bearing interior walls. By moving electrical, plumbing, and mechanical to the bathroom, stair, and exterior walls, the team can treat the interior walls as transient. Imagine the possibilities! The home can be built as a 1:1 model of sorts, exterior and core block. Rooms can be defined by inserting walls after experiencing the “shell” space, as builder or client.

Two 2-bedroom plan options for the latest home iteration

The team’s been defining these optional spaces as “rooms without names,” space that can change purpose and space should the family need it. More free space though is the attic. Able to hold 2 more bedrooms up to FHA standards, it also slings plumbing hookups to the attic space as a vertical extension of the core below.

The attic space being filled and used over time

The 1:1 model method, the protected shell and core, and the house-length porch all amount to something wonderful. With the flexible plan, the home can begin with one, two, the, or no defined bedrooms. Our clients needs two to begin, walls can be placed in whichever of the options work best for their lifestyle. They may want a larger living area to one side of the home. They may prefer the entire bar spanning the porch remain social. They might enjoy both bedrooms catching the sunrise on the east side. This house can accommodate.

An interactive study model with movable walls and furniture.

The team then met with the client, Mr. and Mrs. Myers, and presented an interactive model to show how easily walls can be added shifted. They analyzed the site and began to consider the soil, the trees, and first steps towards getting their hammers swinging and boots in the mud.

Zooming with Joe Farrugia to discuss structural systems

Following these turns of events, the realities of detailing and structure began falling into place. After Thanksgiving the team put the pedal to the metal and jumped into attic truss engineering with Joe Farrugia. With Joe, they are learning the physics and engineering process of a manufactured truss to design their own for production. This involves testing limits of different grades of Southern Pine and various dimensions of lumber. What fun, thanks, Enercalc! They’ve also worked on roof assemblies with Paul Stoller of AtelierTen in Sydney, Australia, and some active systems planning.

Outdoor pinup at the fabrication pavilion with Andrew and Steve

All of these conversations kept on going over the holidays to keep the wheels turning into the New Year. As 2021 tumbled in and work ramped up in Newbern, a review of projects was in order to gauge next steps in design. In retrospect the team synthesized old and new observations of the home and made some exciting new conclusions. Stay tuned for a structural surprise!