Blog

Can You Dig It?

Last time we talked, the team was preparing to get into the ground, so let’s dig in!

As soon as the team returned from graduation, we wrapped up our mock-up construction. We then stepped back and reflected on our details, figuring out what worked and what needs improvement. It was exciting to get a sneak peek at what’s to come for the actual units. Simultaneously, we started site prep!

First up on site, batter boards! (The drawing doesn’t stop in studio people!) Batter boards are a way for us to draw in real life. Each colorful string pulled across our site represents a line in one of our CAD drawings. Using a combination of strings and wooden stakes, we’re able to create a very precise footprint of the units on the ground. This helps us know exactly where to excavate the trenches for our footings as well as the final height of the CMU block wall.

Speaking of footings, we determined the appropriate footing size for the porch’s 14’ overhang. Pouring a really robust footing allows us to expose the thin “spaghetti” trusses marching along the porch header while still taking into account the uplift that may occur at the columns.

With all of our site prep up and going, we’re ready to dig. Cross your fingers and toes, and with any luck, we’ll be up and out of the ground in no time. Until then, over and out.

very cute kittens
The team also gained a few helping paws on site. Meet Okra, Duo, and Mouse!

2022 Pig Roast!

Our small, rural community of Newbern, AL, nearly tripled in size for the 2022 Pig Roast weekend! This year’s event, the first since 2019, was a two-day celebration of West Alabama filled with three project ribbon cuttings, eight alumni lectures, a 100-mile current projects tour, graduation ceremony, and lots of fantastic food and music! A lot happened, so let’s take a look at Pig Roast by the numbers!

3 Project Openings

8 Alumni Lectures, PechaKucha-Style

  • Samuel Maddox ’14, Boston, MA
  • Stephen Durham ’13, Kauai, HI
  • Ally Klinner ’12, Washington, DC
  • David Frazier ’11, New York City, NY
  • Cameron Acheson ’10, Birmingham, AL
  • Betsy Farrell Garcia ’08, Auburn, AL
  • John Marusich ’07, Birmingham, AL
  • Laura Filipek Patterson ’06, New Orleans, LA

2 Bands

  • Friday night: Raina Shine from Tuscaloosa, AL
  • Saturday night: Debbie Bond Blues Band feat. Carroline Shines, “Radiator” Rick, Marcus “Jukeman” Lee on drums and Alabama Blues Camp graduates

4 Projects Presentations With 4 Amazing Clients

2 Class Presentations

  • History and Watercolor Class by Dick Hudgens
  • Woodshop Class by Steve Long

2 Rural Studio Initiatives Updates

4 Meals

Friday night’s dinner at the Horseshoe Courtyard was provided by The Stable and Abadir’s. We had mountains of tasty turkey and veggie wraps from Monique Kitchen at The Stable. Sarah Cole from Abadir’s treated us with a special farm salad, a chard + chickpea grain salad, an orange blossom ginger cake, and a coconut cake. Seriously delicious! We kicked off Saturday morning with treats from Wayside Bakery, then our favorite tacos for lunch from our very own Catherine Tabb and Doris Ward in the Rural Studio Kitchen. Saturday night, we had delicious BBQ pig by Bobby Scott along with more yummy BBQ and fried catfish from Mustang Oil!

23 Sponsors

Thank you to our incredible local sponsors! We couldn’t do this without you! Alabama Power, AerCon, BDA Farm, Hale County Hospital, NAPA Auto Parts, Parker Tire, Peoples Bank, Price Drywall, Reynold’s Electric, Superior Metal, Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee, The Stable, Blue Shadows B&B, City Furniture, Dozier Hardware, Greensboro Depot, Holmstead Company, Partridge Berry, Stillwater Machine, the Smelley family, Citizens Bank, Freeman Chiropractic, & Johnson-Torbert House

1 Graduation Ceremony

Introductions were given by Hale County Probate Judge Arthur Crawford and Karen Rogers, Acting Dean of Auburn University College of Architecture, Design & Construction. We also honored several special guests: Chelsea Elcott, Emefa Butler, Mary Jane Everett, Timothy Hursley, and Dr. John Dorsey. With surprise valediction speakers Julie Eizenberg and Hank Koning from Koning Eizenberg Architecture in Santa Monica, CA, we celebrated our graduating 5th-year students: AC Priest, Adam Davis, Brenton Smith, Caitlyn Biffle, Collin Brown, Daniel Burton, Davis Benfer, Hailey Osborne, Jackie Rosborough, Laurel Holloway, Lauren Lovell, and Yi Xuan Teo.

AND 1 Marriage Proposal

Congrats Jake & Lauren, two returning alumni!

And, of course, no Pig Roast would be complete without a few of our favorites: the Spencer family’s cannon blast of “Whiffle Dust” and beautiful (and massive) fireworks seen from every corner of Newbern.

If you missed Pig Roast, you can still catch up on the news from Rural Studio with blog posts from each team here.

Lastly, BIG congrats to our 5th-years who graduated from Auburn last week. We’re so proud of y’all!

Thank you to everyone for your support! #WarEagle

Rural Studio Farm Pilots New CSA Program

Rural Studio Farm is piloting a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for faculty, staff, and students!

The CSA model has been practiced for decades to support small-scale farmers, build community, and strengthen local food systems. In this model, participating members receive a share of whatever produce is available each week. Members experience the seasonal pulses and fluctuations of the Farm’s produce, a process that teaches members more about the natural cycles of food production, as well as potentially introducing new fruits and vegetables to members. Rural Studio Farm’s 30-week-long CSA is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy local, fresh, chemical-free vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers while directly supporting the operations of the Farm and the greater mission of Rural Studio.

Since students and participating staff have had a hand in growing all of our produce, the CSA initiative completes the experience of food production by directly placing the produce into the hands of the producers.

The Farm has been so successful, with no signs of slowing growth, that we are now producing more food than we can use ourselves. Participating in the CSA will also help reduce food waste, as well as provide extra support to Rural Studio Farm, allow for crop diversification—an important element of our polyculture model—and allow students and staff access to food that is difficult to find in this region.

We at Rural Studio practice farming methods that build a resilient and sustainable agricultural system. That means that we produce food without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides while supporting a more natural, holistic ecological system and stewarding natural and human resources. We utilize organic farming practices like being completely no-till, cover cropping, composting, companion planting, supporting beneficial insects, and crop rotation, all to help build and support a productive soil microbiome and to build back some of our depleted soil fertility.

Some of the new crops we are growing this year specifically for the CSA are kohlrabi, Swiss chard, shallots, lemon grass, fennel, leeks, tomatillos, specialty peppers, ground cherries, radicchio, artichokes, Chinese cabbage, microgreens, and French melons.

If our CSA pilot program proves successful, we plan on extending it to the broader community next year!

Hello, Habitat!

Last month, the Front Porch team attended the Habitat for Humanity International 2022 Affiliate Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In collaboration with two of our long-time field test partners, Front Porch Initiative presented work from those partnerships in conference sessions. The Front Porch team also hosted a booth with our research sponsor Fannie Mae to share our housing affordability research with attendees visiting the exhibit hall. Members of the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team encouraged passers-by to stop and learn about our work, showed off the prototype models, and, and fielded questions about the pilot investigating sweat equity valuation.

Interested attendees stopped by the booth to learn more about Front Porch Initiative and our work with partners across the Southeast.

Mark Grantham, Executive Director of Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity (AOHFH); David Hinson, CADC Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research; and Betsy Farrell Garcia presented ongoing research on high performance housing affordability. In 2018 and 2019, AOHFH constructed two of the Buster’s House prototypes in Opelika to beyond-code energy standards and a resilience standard. Energy consumption data from those houses, as well as a third AOHFH house built to local code, is being collected and evaluated relative to the construction details, construction cost, and usage predicted by energy models. Conclusions drawn from the collected data informs choices about where investments in improved performance produce the most return on investment. The engaged and knowledgeable audience eagerly shared valuable feedback from their experience building to high-performance standards and welcomed the findings on where best to invest in upgrades that return savings on energy performance.

Mark, David, and Betsy presented research on houses constructed in Opelika, AL, and results from the ongoing energy usage.

With Carmen Smith, Executive Director of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), and Darwin Gilmore, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development for Chipola College, Mackenzie Stagg presented an innovative collaboration born out of a shared interest in increasing equitable access to high-performance housing in a rural community. CAHFH is currently building four Front Porch Product Line houses on a site in Marianna, Florida, a town still recovering from Hurricane Michael more than two years after the storm. Front Porch initiative supplied the designs for the homes and has provided technical assistance during the project’s development and construction. Students from the Chipola College Building Construction Technology program supplement volunteer labor while earning clock-hour credit toward a degree and construction certification. These high-performance, resilient houses will increase equitable housing access, facilitate continued disaster recovery efforts, and grow the skilled workforce needed locally. Affiliates attending the session participated enthusiastically and displayed great interest in building similar partnerships in their area.

Front Porch Initiative connected with many mission-aligned Habitat affiliates interested in expanding equitable, affordable homeownership while in Atlanta, and we hope to establish new partnerships with organizations across the country. We appreciate the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team’s invaluable presence on the exhibit floor. Together with our partners’ incredible dedication to collaboration, we continue to reach a wide audience for the work of Rural Studio.

L to R: Tamara Dourney (CAHFH), Pete Fulton (CAHFH), Scott Phelps (Chipola College), Darwin Gilmore (Chipola College), Mackenzie Stagg (AURS), Sidra Goldwater (Fannie Mae), Carmen Smith (CAHFH), Betsy Farrell Garcia (AURS), Rusty Smith (AURS), and Jennie Ann Dean (CAHFH).

We look forward to the next Affiliate Conference!

Pomp and Staircumstance

Now that the Patriece’s Home team has a chance to catch their breath, let us tell you about the exciting last few weeks! Pigs have been roasted, mock-ups have gone up, executives have reviewed, so get ready, because we’ve got a full story!

A sketched perspective sits behind a tree on Patriece's site

Site Design Time! The students began investigating details of the site, including the existing trailer, driveway, and a beautiful, healthy Water Oak tree. The team met with David Hill (professor and graduate chair of Auburn University School of Landscape Architecture) to get some advice on how to draw and diagram zones of different uses on the site, such as play areas and parking. He advised the group to use simple but powerful landscaping tools, like subtle berms and trees that will last and grow over the home’s long lifetime.

The team did a charrette to learn how programmatic zones and natural elements could inform where the house sits, instead of the other way around!

The team also began making mock-ups of many of their home’s unique details!

At the SAME time, the student team was preparing for the Studio’s annual Pig Roast weekend. The students mocked-up their most recent landscape plan on the site and created a scrolled slideshow to present their design of an adaptable two story home to the Studio’s families, friends, and alumni.

And at the same time (are you sensing a theme here?), the Patriece’s Home team prepared for the Executive Review 2.0! The guest reviewers suggested the team use an elevated slab to mitigate their site’s slope, order materials and windows, and get in the ground as soon as possible. YAY!

After Pig Roast and the Executive Reviews, the team rushed over to Auburn to graduate! They’ve worked hard on their research the last two semesters, but when they come back to Hale County next week, as leftovers, the real design-build work begins!

four students stand in the auburn football field, smiling in graduation caps and gowns