Blog

And They’re Off!

Newbies in Newbern

The Spring 2024 3rd-year students found their way to Newbern, and for Rural Studio’s own 30th Anniversary year! These past few weeks have been filled with many firsts for this group. They learned quite a lot already about putting things together and have been thrown into Rural Studio history with the traditional first-week Project Tour!

During their first week in Hale County, the newbies discovered trivia at The Stable and weren’t doing too well, stuck in last place throughout the whole night with 53 points. Then came the final round, which was the special twist: answer the question right and you gain the points that your team wagered, but if you get it wrong you must subtract the points wagered. The group of five decided to wager it all to give themselves a fighting chance at surpassing the first-place holder who had 98 points—and it worked! The group won with 105 points! Unfortunately, the following trivia nights sadly do not share the same happy ending.

Winner, winner, pizza dinner!

Notorious Neckdown

During their second week in Hale County, the 3rd-year students had some good old-fashioned bonding time with the 5th-year students and faculty during “Neckdown” Week! Each day, the students battled the crazy weather and were split into groups to help out around Hale County.

The first group visited Perry Lakes Park with Emily McGlohn and Judith Seaman. They swept the walkways and replaced rotting boards on the boardwalk to the Birding Tower, Bathrooms, and Pavilion.

The second group was the Fabrication Pavilion with Andrew Freear, John Marusich, and Steve Long. The students helped take apart and assemble scaffolding that was then used to replace parts of the columns.

The third group had their first days on the farm, helping Eric Ball plant seeds, harvest carrots, and prepare microgreens to grow in the greenhouse. Group four was busy over at the Model Homes sprucing up for a Spring roster of exciting visitors. Students cleaned the homes, painted walls, and helped Mason Hinton and John Allen with general maintenance. Last but not least was the mobile task force later in the week with Emily and Judith. With a rotating team, they cleaned the Thesis Barn, Newbern Town Hall, and Brick Barn. They also scrubbed the fence to a shine along Highway 61 at Morrisette Campus.

“Neckdown” Week wasn’t for the weak, with such wacky weather almost every single day. From freezing weather to lots of rain, the new 3rd-year students got an unusual Neckdown forecast. At the end of the day, they had a great time getting accustomed to the new lifestyle in Newbern.

Rookies at Rosie’s

Working on Rosie’s home had been one of the most anticipated tasks for the 3rd-year students. With help from a few of last semester’s students, they quickly picked up where the Fall 2023 team left. Kati taught Julia how to trim the windows; Tanner, Sarah, Brysen, and Mac all worked on continuing the cypress wood paneling; Caitlin and Deane built louvers for the attic vents; and finally, Yesenia and Jack continued the electrical work. One big hit from the first week on Rosie’s site was the cats! The most famous is Crunch, who is extremely loving.

Over the next few weeks, the 3rd-year students all teamed together to finish putting up the cypress wood paneling that wraps the ceiling. This was a big step in the right direction when it came to finishing Rosie’s Home. The cypress wood ceiling perfectly reflects lighting down into the room creating a beautiful effect.

Once the ceiling was completed, it was time to trim and caulk the windows and louvers throughout the house. This step only took a few days, and soon after, the scaffolding was able to come out and the flooring began! The scaffolds leaving the house and completing flooring in the living and kitchen areas were such big accomplishments, we deserved a good rest on the floor. The flooring is called Marmoleum, a variety of linoleum which is manufactured with linseed oil that uses a click-lock backing system and is part of 3rd-year students’ ongoing study in healthier material alternatives. Along with its health advantages over vinyl, the whole class is loving how easy Marmoleum has been to install.

The class is super excited to keep checking tasks off of the list and pushing towards the finish line of Rosie’s Home.

Head-Turning History

Dick Hudgens is the professor for the history seminar here at Rural Studio. However, his classes are not like any regular history classes these students have had before. Hudgens takes the students on trips to visit historic homes around the Black Belt region and includes the use of natural watercolors in his sketching assignments. At the beginning of the semester, a watercolor-making class is held led by local textile and dye artist Aaron Sanders Head. During this class, the students are shown a few ways that watercolor pigments can be made using natural resources like local plant matter, kitchen scraps, and leftover building materials.

So far, we have visited four homes: Glencairn, Magnolia Grove, Bluff Hall, and Lyons Hall. We learned a lot from these four homes and are excited for the other trips as the semester progresses. If you’d like to see everyone’s work, all sketches and watercolors done throughout the semester can be found at Pig Roast coming up at the end of next month!

Locations of the homes visited so far:

1.          Glencairn, Greensboro, AL

2.          Magnolia Grove, Tuscaloosa, AL

3.          Bluff Hall, Demopolis, AL

4.          Lyons Hall, Demopolis, AL

Working Hard in Woodshop

The 3rd-year students have been spending a lot of time in the woodshop these past couple of weeks and have been keeping the woodshop instructor, Steve Long, on his toes. Each semester students are given two projects to work on within the shop. The first is a cutting board, which allows them to get familiar with the equipment in the shop. The second, and most important, project is to recreate an architect’s famous chair design from found documents. Most of these chairs are manufactured on a machine scale, so the project requires students to design the processes to build these seats by hand using the resources of the Newbern shop! Both finished products will be on display at Pig Roast, so be sure to come by at the end of the semester.

So far, we have made the cutting boards, performed research for our chosen chairs, and created storyboards for them. Most recently, we have started making mock-ups to prepare for the final chair build. We are excited to see how the chairs will turn out!

Here’s each group and their chosen chair!

Denae and Julia: Standard Chair No. 4 by Jean Prouve

Sarah and Yesenia: Stool No. 60 by Alvar Aalto

Brysen and Mac: Frei Edigio (Folding Chair) by Lina Bo Bardi

To end on a good note, get to know the new group! Here are some of their fun little theories…

What’s your fun little theory?

Denae Inniss is from the Bahamas. Theory: Animals that run out in front of your car are controlled by insurance companies.

Julia Van Pelt is from Columbus, Georgia. Theory: Farmersonly.com puts farms out of business.

Sarah May is from Huntsville, Alabama. Theory: Dogs have names for humans.

Yesenia Serrano is from Collinsville, Alabama. Theory: Whales have contact with life in the deep sea and life in space.

Brysen Calvin is from Chicago, Illinois. Theory: There is one cow on the moon; it never jumped.

Mac Harlow is from Atlanta, Georgia. Theory: The Denver airport.

Thanks for checking in, look out for big strides out at Rosie’s Home as we celebrate the home stretch of this 3rd-year project! See you soon.

Donut Ask How Many Plans We’ve Drawn

The CLT Core House team continues exploring wood construction technologies and prefabrication in Rural Studio’s latest housing affordability project. The goal for this project is to reduce the overall labor costs on-site by prefabricating one key “core” part of the home in a controlled environment and then transporting it to the site.

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 final floor 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 structural 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 floor plans that tended to muddle the ideas.

We have finally developed a plan that is 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. There is still a long way to go and plenty of iterations but, “we finally have a plan.”

Right?

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!

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