Rural Studio Farm is a small-scale, organic vegetable production farm run by our farm manager, Eric Ball, who relies on the labor of each and every Rural Studio student who passes through the program. Each year, two new 5th-year students are hired part time to work alongside Eric in co-managing the farm’s operations.
With the beginning of a new academic year, it means we must say goodbye to our two former farm workers: Cory Subasic and Madeline Ray. Madeline and Cory were both diligent and hard-working students who, together, managed the operations of the farm and acted as leaders to the other students for several months while our farm manager, Eric, was away on parental leave. Cory, who worked on the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project has since taken a fellowship with Brian MacKay-Lyons in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And Madeline is devoting all her time to finishing up work on the Myers’ Home. Their contributions to the farm were essential, and their presence will be greatly missed.
We are also excited to have two Project Horseshoe Farm fellows working with us on the farm as part of their community engagement. This will be Maggie Rosenthal’s second year working at Rural Studio Farm, and we welcome Diana Omenge to Hale County!
Welcome back to the journal, dear reader. In my last entry, I reported that Hale County had entered a state of oppressive heat and humidity. Several weeks have passed since that report, and climatically, nothing has changed. It’s 95oF in Hale County today, but they say it feels like 106oF. Let me ask you, dear reader, that if it feels like 106, then is it not 106? Alas, my mind wanders. Such a question is a trifle in comparison to my duty to you, that is to recount in an earnest fashion, the activity of Reverend Walker’s Home team.
While the environment is still and sweltering, my crew is the opposite. Intrepid and strong, and with the help of a protective roof, they carry on. I will admit, this motley crew are always raising the bar. I previously issued orders for them to complete the exterior of the home in a timely manner, and that they have. It was not a trivial amount of work. The tasks were varied and many. But yet again, the team has risen to the occasion. Doors and windows were built and installed concurrently with the application of siding and flashing. With additional help from new students during Neckdown week, roll roofing was installed, the site was graded, beneath-ground drains installed, and a small patio built.
Doors & Windows
As Addie and Becca finished windows in the woodshop, Paul and George would install them on site. The whole unit is fabricated in the shop, making installation quick and easy. Pre-hung doors were installed and custom trim applied to the face of them to match the window details. As the doors and windows went in the house, siding and flashing were installed as allowed by what openings were done.
Reverend Walker’s Home is clad in the same galvalume r-panel that makes up the roof. Large, cut to length sheets make a fairly easy process. The only tricky parts are at those window locations where c-shapes need to be made out of the sheet metal. Bottom flashing was installed prior to siding.
After the siding was put up, metal flashing and trim were next. The corner trim was installed first and then the top of wall flashing. The typical metal building corner trim has always been a team favorite. It is incredibly easy to install and is so big that it somehow disappears, or appears as just another ridge in the r-panel. Thank you fat corner trim. Top flashing was trickier with the different angles and cuts needed to make crisp connections between pieces. But with some practice cuts and good measurements it came together without much trouble.
As flashing wrapped up, Neckdown week began. Each day we were assisted by one or two new arrivals, bright-eyed and incredibly clean. We were also able to welcome Becca and Addie back from their shop sabbatical/site hiatus! Reunited and reinforced, we set about our work. Becca and Addie led the charge on the application of asphalt roll roofing to the top of the volumes. The roofing provides the final layer of water protection to the two volumes underneath the roof.
As the roll roofing went on, Paul and George were joined by several Landscape Architecture students, who offered advice and assistance in making a small gravel patio. After a quick design discussion, the area was graded, and a first length of French drain was installed so that we could move forward with edging and infilling with gravel. The rest of the drain would be installed later.
When the roofing and patio jobs were complete, it was all hands on deck for site grading. With the help of the skid-steer, earth was moved from the excavated pile to the slab edge and graded away. Additionally, several large ruts were filled in and the site was smoothed out. The septic mound was extended with any remaining earth in the pile.
So, post grading, what we are left with is a mostly finished exterior of a house. There are always a few odds and ends to take care of, but there is no doubt that neckdown week was a huge success on site.
Certainly, much has happened in a short period of time. I tell you once more, dear reader, that this bunch is special. Of course this is not to say that it could have been done without my strong leadership. It takes a steady paw to guide a vessel this size through choppy waters. On the horizon I see finish carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and other odds and ends. I will continue to record the progress of Reverend Walker’s Home for posterity, the world deserves to know the intricacies of our grand adventure. Alas, dear reader, the sun draws closer to the horizon and I have grown weary. I must put aside my journal in favor of a nap. I think I will chose a nice spot in between two elephant ears Paul has acquired for this occasion.
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!
Welcome back to my journal, dear reader! This log aims to provide for you an accurate account of the goings-on of Reverend Walker’s Home. Might my words inform or at the very least entertain, then I should be satisfied with its effect. I generally begin these entries with a current description of Hale County as a whole, to provide a context to place the actions of my crew.
As of late, the county has sunk into a thick, languid humidity that prevents large amounts of evaporation. This atmosphere results in dense fogs, oppressive temperatures, swampy ground, and incredible displays of heat lightning. It is not a forgiving climate, to be sure. But it is a West Alabama climate and it’s in it that the special quality of Hale County is made.
My crew labors through these conditions with spirit and humor. They are a hardy bunch indeed. But enough of my musings, dear reader, you must think me sentimental. I have set the team a multitude of tasks to be completed. These range from procuring materials and making final orders to wiring and plumbing the home.
To separate program and create a loft space, a small number of interior walls were built. These divide the living and core spaces, and divide the core space into a bathroom and kitchen, with a small closet facing the living area. It was not a big task, but it was a good feeling to be done putting the bones of the home together. After getting the sticks up we put together the loft floor and were ready to sheath.
Reverend Walker’s Home uses an OSB sheathing system wrapped in tar paper. The large sheet material makes it a relatively quick process. It was interesting to experience the space in and around the solid volumes for the first time.
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
Before we can get drywall up, we need to install the guts of the home. This includes running wire for fixtures and plugs, running water lines, drains, and vents. Reverend Walkers Home uses a PEX water supply system. Getting to focus on some nitty-gritty MEP details was a refreshing change from rough carpentry.
Before we can finish up electrical and get insulating, we need to develop a lighting strategy. To help we used the built volumes as 1:1 mockups, and clamped lights around to draw conclusions. We did this for the interior and porch spaces. Interestingly, our initial idea for lighting the exterior was to use the overhead roof as a lighting device. Instead, we found it far more comfortable to reduce the scale by bringing the light down. This has developed into an overall strategy of letting the spaces be grand and open during the day, and shorter, closer to human scale at night.
The quest to crank out window units continues. You will recall the custom cypress windows our team have designed. We are eager to complete these and get them in the house so that we can move forward with cladding the home in galvalume r-panel. In total there are five windows of three varieties. The difference being in the proportion of glass to hatch. I walked into the shop for some pictures, this is what I found Addie up to.
Indeed, my crew has been hard at work. I have put my full trust in them to perform their tasks well. Fortunately for me, they are a good lot which makes management easy, leaving more time to nap. As the Reverend’s home nears completion, look forward to learning about siding, lighting, and finish carpentry. Things are going to begin coming together fast. Alas, dear reader, I must draw an end to this journal entry, for I have grown weary. I believe I will choose the Reverend’s slab porch for today’s restful occasion.
My my, dear reader, it has been some time hasn’t it? Welcome to my latest journal recounting the design and progress of Reverend Walker’s Home. I can assure you the silence has not been due to any lack of activity, rather the opposite. Upon completion of the large pavilion structure, my crew has moved underneath to begin constructing the enclosed volumes that inhabit the space between slab and roof. You can be sure that they are grateful for the sheltered workspace that defends them from rain and sun. They have no excuse to not be working. Myself, I have found it a most suitable location for napping. There’s much to catch you up on, dear reader, so let’s begin with a recap of the design of the Reverend’s Home.
Reverend Walker’s Home is a response to the rural phenomena of home addition, which you can read about in an earlier journal. It aims to provide a forgiving space on a strong foundation to facilitate successful addition. The home is a kit of three parts: a slab, a roof, and two enclosed volumes. One volume is the main living block with all necessary program. The smaller volume is a partially unfinished space furnished with utility stub-outs.
The intentionally disparate items are intended to imply a process of addition… first the slab, second the roof, third the enclosure, and so on and so forth. Although the home encourages clients to design and extend the enclosure according to their lifestyle, it is completely livable as-built. Crew member Paul likens the Reverend’s Home to a “hook to hang one’s hat on”. Ultimately, it is built as a minimal enclosure with a luxury of porch space. The porch could exist as outdoor living, or be infilled.
As of now, the roof and slab are done. The only piece of the kit left is the enclosure.
As a part of our vapor barrier system, we used a DOT approved slab seal to ensure that moisture can neither seep into the slab or move up through it into the home. Before sealing, the slab was pressure washed and left to dry for 48 hours. This stuff is very hydrophobic and water now squeegees right off.
Before diving into framing the units underneath the roof, we needed to ensure that our details were going to work. We do this by building 1:1 mockups. In ours, we tested framing and flashing details, as well as a full-scale mockup of our custom window design. You might recall that our team has designed a window system made of a fixed glass pane and an operable ventilation hatch. By doing the mock-up we were able to refine details and systems which will make a better final product.
Satisfied with our details, we’ve moved on. To make things easier in the future, we decided to go ahead and attach our treated sill-plates to the slab and build the sub-floor. We used powder-actuated and pneumatic tools for the plates. The sub-floor is r-7.5 rigid insulation between sleepers with plywood on top. Following the installation of the floor, we were ready to frame.
There you have it, dear reader, the current state of Reverend Walker’s Home. It’s certainly beginning to take shape. With my thoughtful leadership, I have brought us to this point and will continue to ask my crew to go above and beyond. I am confident they will not disappoint me. My next order will be for them to put up sheathing and wrap the house, after which I will banish them to the woodshop to build all the windows and doors. Alas, I could go on forever, dear reader, if only it wasn’t my nap hour. For now, I must retire to the captain’s table and rest my weary paws.