Becoming the Town Architect

Rural Studio® is an off-campus design-build program, rooted in Hale County and part of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture of Auburn University. Our core mission is the education of our students, coupled with research on sustainable, healthful rural living through both housing and the vital systems we foster to ensure our communities thrive. We are committed to cultivating students who are both local architects and citizens of the world.

To date, Rural Studio has built more than 200 projects and educated more than 1,200 students in the Black Belt. Around four dozen students are invited to attend each year to participate in this context-based service-learning curriculum, where students live and work alongside our neighbors, finding solutions together. Our design-build program challenges students to consider not what can be built but rather what should be built.

“We encourage aspiring young architects to address the ethical responsibility for the social, political, and environmental consequences of what they design and build.” 

— Andrew Freear, Rural Studio Director

The current focal points of Rural Studio research—explorations, if you will—are innovative practices in home access and affordability, effective and efficient timber use, small-scale farming, and access to resources like clean water. Each is an integral part of long-term wellbeing and regional sustainability.

To tackle housing access, Rural Studio goes beyond lowering up-front costs: we include design to maximize energy efficiency, resilience, and healthful living, all while offering dignified design that builds equity. Projects like the Front Porch Initiative help other communities to realize the dream of good design and the right of quality housing. Working with partners throughout the Southeast, Rural Studio is building homes to address the critical issue of rural America’s silent housing crisis.

Rural Studio is also focusing on the interconnectedness of economies and the environment, building with locally available, renewable materials such as timber grown in West Alabama. As part of this, the Studio has been exploring how various timber systems create jobs in the community and use local resources, feeding money back into the economy and reducing the impact of shipping.

The Rural Studio Farm emerged from our complex combination of architectural, social, and environmental responsibilities, including designing and building, place and community, creativity and experimentation, culture and education, and service and citizenship. Small-scale farming enriches nutrition and reduces environmental impact in rural communities that have become food deserts. And of course, no community can thrive without access to resources like clean drinking water.

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