Blog

Looking Back, Moving Forward

The Front Porch Initiative team had a busy 2023. Over the course of the year, we provided technical assistance to twelve partners in six states. They built homes based on Rural Studio housing prototypes that incorporate climate-resilience and energy-efficiency. At the close of 2023, Front Porch Initiative housing partners had ten houses in development, six housing units under construction, and six homes completed. While recent blog posts shared the home dedications for Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County (SC) and Community Housing Corp of Madison County (NC), the team also celebrated the completion of another four homes in Greenville and the dedication of a home in Lafitte, Louisiana, 45 minutes south of New Orleans. 

Completed Homes in Greenville, South Carolina

These homes represent milestones for our housing provider partners: for Habitat Greenville, the accessible two-bedroom, two-bathroom design expands the client base the affiliate can serve, including single homeowners and those with limited mobility. For New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH), the home dedicated in April 2023 is the first in a disaster recovery effort to rebuild a working coastal town decimated by Hurricane Ida in August 2021. As a replacement home leveraging the homeowners’ existing property and infrastructure, the home is certified to both ENERGY STAR and FORTIFIED Gold for Hurricane standards to increase resilience for an uncertain energy future and potential weather events. Partnerships with these organizations have deepened our understanding of the housing procurement process, equipping us to share those findings with other partners working through similar challenges in land use, financing, insurance, or other areas.

Completed home in Lafitte, Louisiana

Auburn alum Christian Ayala joined Rural Studio as a Research Architect in January 2023 after receiving his Master of Science in Architecture with a focus on housing from Rice University. With the expansion of the team, our capacity to provide technical assistance expanded significantly, and the product line of homes grew to include two new additions: a new adaptation of the Dave’s House prototype with an added nook and a duplex prototype. Products offered to housing provider partners draw on the research conducted by faculty, staff, and students in West Alabama; for this version of Dave’s, the housing partner needed a home with additional living space, so we incorporated a quarter-bedroom concept developed by Rural Studio students, the 3rd-year team that built Ophelia’s Home. As part of prototype development this year, the Front Porch team explored new technologies, including insulated concrete forms (ICF) with NOAHH, in partnership with concrete industry partners; we even participated in the build. Future material and process investigations may include mass timber and offsite construction. 

In addition to meeting with partners across the Southeast, we traveled to Cosanti, Arizona, to present at the Building Technology Educators’ Society (BTES) Conference; to Salt Lake City, Utah, to present at the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) Summit; and to Washington, DC, to attend the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) Conference. We welcomed an array of visitors to Hale County as well: representatives of Fannie Mae’s leadership team, participants in a HAC Placemaking Summit, builder partners, and regional policymakers. 

Fannie Mae visit to Newbern

In 2024, we already have some exciting opportunities lined up, including presentations at the Habitat for Humanity Affiliate Conference, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) 112th Annual Meeting, and the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC) Residential Building Design and Construction Conference. Stay tuned!

Model Citizens: Small Scale, Big Ideas

We’re back! It’s our first blog post of the new year. We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday break—the Fabrication Pavilion team surely did. We spent our break scattered across Alabama and Texas, but we made time to be together as well to see Christmas lights, visit aquariums, and go to festivals.

Now it is time to ring in the new year with models, repairs, and lots of new screen ideas!

Small-Scale Model Making

We started off the semester by building a ½” scale model of the Fabrication Pavilion. This allowed us to closely examine how the structural elements were constructed. The finished model of the back half of the pavilion is five and a half feet long. That’s as tall as some of our team members making us “model citizens”! This large model has helped us test out how the new extension will interlock with the original structure and will allow us to test out other design elements, like rain screens, in the future.

Neck down, Heads Up!

During “Neckdown” Week, we worked on maintenance projects at Perry Lakes Park, Newbern Town Hall, the Model Homes, and Morrisette Campus. At the end of the week, the four of us came back together to continue work on column repairs. It is officially time to move the scaffolding to the other end of the pavilion for phase two of repairs!

Screening our Big Ideas

After Soup Roast Review, our team decided to make weather screening a larger focus of the Fabrication Pavilion extension project. To provide Rural Studio with more opportunities for prefabrication in the future, it is important that a portion of the pavilion has adequate rain protection. We are currently experimenting with different schemes with the help of our guests from Gluck+ and Andrew Berman to balance protection, natural light, and ventilation. We also need to consider how these screens interact with the existing structure and the new roof plane that will be installed at the end of the repair process.

Check back in soon to see our progress on repairs, screens, and new structural designs.

Here’s to a great 2024 to come!

Donut Ask How Many Plans We’ve Drawn

It has been a long road of many crumpled sheets and drafted lines. Every week, it feels like we tell our classmates, “We finally have a plan.” As in a house floor plan. How silly we were. Many iterations felt so close, seeming to be just out of reach. If only we pushed one more week, we told ourselves, surely it would work! Alas, our continual effort never seemed to reach that coveted goal. That is one of the great benefits of being at Rural Studio. We have the luxury of time, and great help from teachers and visitors alike, to help us realize when we aren’t hitting the mark. Sometimes it is hard to even find words describing why something may not work. Still, through every iteration we are learning.

Fresh Air, Fresh Ideas

This semester we have been hoping to reach one plan. We had a list of requirements and details that we saw as essential. It took a long time to realize that maybe we have been trying to hold on to too many of these “essential” criteria. We have a good concept. We have a core that holds all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems while also acting as the shear support for the house. Rather than forcing the concept to work in a plan, we wanted it to inform a plan clearly and effectively. It felt like we were forcing the idea onto plans that tended to muddle the ideas.

So, we reevaluated. What is the simplest form of our idea? An object floating in space. What about two? What if you wanted to house a family of five? How do you blend the simplicity of an idea with a living space that needs to be designed for a large family? The Farnsworth house wouldn’t do well to create adequate privacy between Grandma and her grandkids. Too many windows.

What we found was that we could develop a plan that was simple and clear while also giving that large family the privacy and utility that they might need. We have been calling it the Donut Plan as there is a free-floating core and program organized around it. After working with this new layout, we have even found ways of reincorporating almost all of those “essential” criteria we thought we would have to give up. It felt like a leap to rethink our concept, but as mentioned before, the built-up knowledge led us toward new conclusions and better decision-making. It feels much calmer. There is still a long way to go and plenty of iterations but, “we finally have a plan.”

Right?

Bathhouse Back in Business!

Hi everyone and welcome back to the newest edition of the Rural Studio Bathhouse blog! We hope that everyone had a happy holiday season and is having a great new year so far. It has been a very busy month for the Bathhouse team. We are excited to share what we are up to.

picture of 4 PVC pipes with faces drawn on them
Team in PVC form

In studio over the past month, we have had some really extraordinary reviewers. We are especially grateful to Andrew Berman from New York City and our good friend Marlon Blackwell from Arkansas. They have both helped tremendously with the treatment of spaces and materiality on the interior of the Bathhouse!

Marlon Blackwell sketching on drawing
Marlon sketching with us

On site, we are very excited to be pushing quickly toward the pouring of our raised concrete floor slabs. The team is working hard to get all the plumbing in place to be ready to pour. We are also beginning the process of building the formwork for the edges of the slabs.

We started the process by working through the underground pipes. Then, we marked out all the pipes on the ground, indicating where they would run under the breathing wall pods. We also marked where they would intersect with our CMU walls. The team went to town digging once everything was marked out. With the help of a few new, brave 5th-year friends, the digging under the breathing wall pods didn’t take long at all!

picture of finished trenches
Finished trenches!

With the help of Steve and his tools, we were also able to drill all the holes for the pipes to run through the CMU walls.

student drilling through cmu wall
Drilling holes for plumbing through CMU walls

Once the trenches were in place, we began to dry fit all the underground pipes and level them with sand to the necessary slopes.

After dry fitting everything, we worked piece by piece to glue it all together. As of this blog post’s writing, everything has all been glued together! The team will test all the underground lines to make sure there are no leaks in the coming days.

We also picked up the metal beams and decking that will support the slabs and have been preparing them for installation.

We sanded and painted the beams. With Steve’s help and working with his tools again, we were also able to cut the beams to size. And he was able to make the notches in the CMU walls where the beams will sit.

Once the beams and decking are in place, we will install the rest of the plumbing in each crawlspace. The formwork will also begin to go up around the edges of each structure, helping support the cantilevering edges of the slabs. The team is currently working on the design of the formwork and has built a mock-up of one possible support.

Although the main focus has been getting ready for the slab pours, the team has not lost sight of the next major step in the project: the stacked wooden walls! We have also built a table, which we lovingly call the “jig table,” in order to be ready to go with the walls as soon as the concrete is done. It will help us the rest of the project with assembling the stacked modules for the wood walls.

The table will provide a surface to align all the pieces of wood together, allow us to be clamp and fasten them together, and offer stability when we drill the holes for the threaded rods to run through.

picture of finished jig table
Completed jig table!

Thanks for following along and reading this update. We hope that when we speak again, we will officially be done with the slabs and working toward the construction of our wood walls!

student joking with clamp on head
Silly Ambar, clamps are for the wood!

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan 

They’re Cutting Holes in the Walls!?

So, I’m what you might call a new cat on the block. I’m just a few weeks old, and I live in Greensboro. That’s me there, on the barrel, looking for lunch.

Cat perched on barrel

And I’ve noticed some people who come around every day and do weird things. I think they call themselves “18×18” or some nonsense like that. Not too long ago, they went away for a while. And they left this thing they were working on. It looked like this…

Sheathed house

But they came back! And they’ve been cutting holes in the walls?! And now their “thing” looks like THIS…

Sheathed house with windows

I don’t know why they’d cut apart what they just made. But it looks like they follow the same steps every time. First, they cut out a hole…

Then they put extra nails around the hole…

Student using pneumatic nail gun

Then they put sticky stuff all around the edges. Two different KINDS of sticky stuff. It looks REALLY sticky.

After that, they put a piece of glass in the hole, over the sticky stuff. This part looks really complicated. They add little pieces of wood on the inside part of the glass, they see if its frame is level and square, and then they put just a couple nails in from the outside. But before they put more nails in, they open the piece of glass! It looks like they’re testing it.

They put in the rest of the nails, and THEN, to finish it off…they put even more sticky tape over the edges of the glass! I don’t know why they would need the hole to be sealed up so well. Nothing is ever going to get past that piece of glass!

I don’t get it, but they seem really excited about the holes in their project. They said one time that Pella Windows and Doors donated all of the windows for this house! That was so generous of the company. The team is feeling very thankful for that donation!

And you’ll never believe what they’ve started now! I gotta keep my eyes on these people. Even more weird stuff…

Rough plumbing in stud wall