Moundville Archaeological Park Community Pavilion

Same Mounds, New Faces

Hello world, the Moundville Archaeological Park Pavilion project is back on with a few new faces!

Team members in front of presentation

Located along the Black Warrior River, the Moundville Archaeological Park is a Native American Heritage site that preserves 29 earthen mounds from over 800 years ago, that at its peak was one of America’s largest settlements north of Mexico. While the park currently operates as an active archaeological site, it remains open to the public for community gatherings and activities.

In 2018, the archaeological park approached Rural Studio about the need for an outdoor gathering space located in their campgrounds. The previous student team designed and began construction of the new pavilion but, due to the global pandemic, Auburn University had to halt construction and the project was put on hold until this fall. The new team of 5th-year students includes Brenton Smith (Dothan, AL), Caitlyn Biffle (Rogersville, AL), Collin Brown (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), and Jackie Rosborough (Deerfield, IL). 

Individual polaroid photos of team

Collaborating with Anderson Inge

The first step in the project was to begin researching the previous team’s design and evaluate the structure’s current condition after being exposed to the elements for over a year. To get a more accurate representation of the structure, the Studio worked with Assistant Professor Danielle Wilkens from the Georgia Institute of Technology, perform a LiDAR scan. Together they created an exact 3D model of the current pavilion’s structure. We also met with structural engineer Anderson Inge from Anderson Inge Building Workshop via Zoom, who provided some general observations from his visit and answered questions from the team. From the LiDAR scan and Anderson’s notes and suggestions, an accurate physical model was also made to act as a tool in the design process.

Charretting with Emily Knox and David Hill

Professors David Hill and Emily Knox of Auburn University’s Landscape Architecture program led a workshop with the team that focused on the potential of utilizing the landscape in the design. This first meeting focused mainly on using groundcover and shrub layers of vegetation to define space, paths, and views in and around the site.

A Discussion with Hank and Julie

We also had a visit from Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg of Koning Eizenberg Architects, who led us in a design charrette to highlight the possibility of rethinking the pavilion’s cladding. By building the model and working through some first design iterations, we left with more clarity in our understanding of the current structure and the potentials for the design moving forward.


Hello world, the Moundville Community Pavilion Team is now reporting from Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey to update everyone on the state of the project with the changes Coronavirus has brought.

With Auburn classes going online, the team had no choice but to hang up the hammers and spend some time at home. Navigating the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone and the Studio has made the tough decision to suspend all ongoing projects in compliance with stay at home orders and Auburn’s online requirements.

Since the future is very unsure for the world and the Studio and in order to protect the communities of Hale County, we are not currently planning to return to Moundville. Although we may not have the privilege of finishing the project, the clients have been assured that the pavilion will be completed by the Studio in the near future.

It is indescribably hard to leave behind an unfinished project so close to the end and the community that we have become so entrenched in, but we are, and will always be, incredibly grateful for the time we spent in Moundville and the opportunity to meet the incredible residents and Park employees.

In order to document our time with the project, we are working together through Zoom meetings and Google Drive to create a project book. We hope that it will serve as a research tool for future Rural Studio teams and help guide the completion of the project by explaining our intentions for what remains to be finished.

We hope to continue to provide updates and content for the book through the blog. Meanwhile to brighten up your quarantine, you can hear a little more about the project’s involvement in the community as well as the team’s personal take on the experience of building in Moundville here: as part of the University of Alabama’s “Museums From Your Home” campaign.

Baby’s First Ninety Degree Angle (kinda)

The Moundville Pavilion team finished all structural framing with the completion of the soffit pieces to form the pavilion’s final edge. Although the height for the low ridge and tall corners (at 12 feet and 20 feet respectively) was determined as the most successful in balancing circulation and rest, there was a concern among the consultants and clients that the roof may feel heavy in the site. Terminating the resulting eight-foot structural depth into a four-inch edge is an important element of the design to allow the structure to achieve a certain lightness and elegance, avoiding the feeling of a heavy floating object and emphasizing the openness of the high corners and the ceiling’s “wing-like fold” instead. This was accomplished in attaching plywood pieces to extend the edge past the edge beam and frame the final soffit.

The soffit wedges made during spring neck downs ready for installment!

The task in creating this edge and extending the soffit past both the trusses and the edge beams terminating the joists involved some creative thinking. The soffit wedges created during neck downs (see blog post: Get Jiggy With It) combined the differing slopes of the ceiling and roof with angled cuts along the top and bottom. The face connecting the wedges to the edge beam was angled to attach the wedge perpendicular to the roof joists in order to follow the seams of the plywood roof sheathing. Each side of the pavilion had a unique template and wedge design to account for any discrepancies in edge beam and joist placement along each edge.

Making these wedges during neck downs definitely saved some time, but installing the wedges accounted for its own challenges. Since these soffit pieces are forming the final edge of the pavilion, including the corners at the low and high points, they created a line working to a point that didn’t exist yet. On top of that, the pavilion edges slope in four different directions. As we explained in the previous post (Get Jiggy With It) temporary posts held strings to give a line to work towards. Chalk lines were snapped at 2 foot increments along the roof joists to use a jig to hold the wedges perpendicular to the joists as they are attached. Furring strips of 1-by material was attached the to bottom of the wedges to keep their placement and spacing.

Edge detail showing the face of the soffit wedge attached to the edge beam, with sheathing for the roof and ceiling.
The tip of the wedge is lined up to the string and measures 2.5″, the addition plywood on top and bottom will give it a structural edge right under four inches.

However, the weight of the two laminated plywood pieces measuring almost eighteen inches at one end meant that the wedges would sink the longer they were up. The team didn’t want to nail gun them into place before confirming the corners so temporary 2x4s attached the pieces to multiple roof joists at every third wedge to stiffen the members.

Although time consuming and the cause of quite a few frustrating days, the project team and, more importantly, the clients are extremely happy with what the soffit and resulting thin edge contributes to the overall space. Not only does it extend the boundaries of the roof, but it achieves the lightness and floating quality the design intended.

As the team continued the soffit framing to the low corners, it became very clear that additional framing members needed to stiffen the two way cantilever off of the small trusses. Since the corner of the pavilion extended ten feet past the face of the truss, there were concerns about stiffening the corner enough to prevent sag. Thankfully, our trusty structural engineer, Joe Farrugia, saved the day with a last-minute, 24-hour trip to Hale county to see the structure and work through possible solutions with the team.

Since the corner is acting at as a two-way cantilever, Joe recommended stiffening one edge using a laminated beam of 2, 2x6s that notches into three soffit wedges along one side, This beam could then be used as a stiff element to cantilever the fascia board for the opposite edge. Additional strapping (thanks to Jim Turnipseed and his donation of even more Simpson Strong Tie products) firmly attaches the beam to the soffit wedges, ties each wedge back to its partner roof joist, and connects the entire cantilevered corner of the small trusses to the adjacent truss bays.

Cutting notches in the corner wedges to place the beam into
The laminated, 2×6 beam is strapped into the soffit wedges with a tapered edge that reaches the soffit string that the fascia board can attach to
Additional strapping to connect the cantilevered bay to adjacent truss bay.
The end of the beam is tapered from the ridge to create a 2.5″ inch edge mimicking the soffit pieces, meeting the string where the fascia will attach.
Sketch done with Joe of beam solution at double-cantilevered corners.
The tall corners are framed!
It’s a lot of angles…BUT that corner is a near perfect ninety degrees, just sloping in two directions

Long story short, the wedges are installed, the corners have been framed, and everything is officially strapped and nail gunned into place! The team is very proud of making it to this point and excited to see many excited community members commenting on how they envision using the space. Another donation from Scotch Plywood and a forklift rental from Sunbelt rentals means the plywood for the roof, ridge, and soffit pieces is on the platform and ready to go for the next phase: sheathing and cladding!

During all of this, the project team still tried to balance the design and building processes and completed a full scale, bench mock up to finalize the design and continue to consider locations for seating.

“A Ton of Wood and Four Girls”

“They have a ton of wood and four girls.” — Random guy at Lowes somehow accurately summing up the past year in Moundville.

After all the challenges in installing the roof joists, the ceiling joists were somewhat of a breeze. Unlike the roof, the majority of the ceiling joists could be ninety degree cuts running perpendicular to the trusses which helped ease installation. Katie and Lauren were able to perfect the process and complete them in a little over two weeks.

The edge beams still provided a little more of a challenge since they intersect the ceiling joists at a diagonal and required angled cuts. To more accurately determine the required length and angle of these members, the ceiling joists in the standard truss bays were installed first with strings pulled from the existing ceiling plane to the edge beams. This gave the team something to measure along for each joist which proved to be the most accurate method to account for variations in the wood and edge beam placement.

Simultaneously, Emily and Sarah took on a big task in framing the ridge. Plywood pieces were installed to match the slopes of the existing ceiling planes as the joists were installed. These pieces (affectionately referred to on site as “diapers” for their unique profile) were installed to form the ridge line and provide framing for the ceiling cladding. It was immensely important to be as accurate as possible and continue the plane of the ceiling joists.

Installing the diapers focused on achieving the straightest line possible that intersects the low corners perfectly. For an added headache, to be able to continue the fastener pattern for the ceiling cladding established in the joist spacing, the diapers were installed 3/4″ above the desired finished ceiling plane so that plywood can be attached as a secondary layer to allow a “clean slate” for the fastener spacing.

Notebook sketch of plywood ridge piece.
The ridge!

After multiple iterations, the form of the pieces was perfected and installed to give the first physical framing element of the bottom ceiling ridge!

Framing the ceiling was a huge accomplishment in marking a milestone in the framing process. It also allowed the team to begin to test cladding materials, sizes, and patterns as well as detailing the column reveal.

Sketch of column reveal detail with cladding stopping 1 1/2″ short of the truss face.
Meeting with New York architects Tod Williams and Billy Tsien in Moundville’s Big John BBQ restaurant.

With the roof joists, ceiling joists, and ridge framing complete, the team finally has the framing for the four planes of the structure that form the roof and ceiling. Turning such a unique shape with diagonal truss lines into a logical and formal structure with two distinct ridge lines and four different slopes has been one of the biggest undertakings the four members have ever undertaken. Completing this stage of the process is extremely gratifying for the team; however, the soffit terminating the eight-foot structural depth and 18-inch edge beam into a four-inch edge will complete the final, and toughest, step in the framing process.

Get Jiggy with It

The Moundville ladies are preparing the roof and framing the extended edges and corners of the pavilion for roof sheathing!

In order to begin roof joists, blocking was attached using the bypass system off the trusses to give the hangers ample room to grab. This was necessary since the roof geometry is created using the planes of the joists and the connection to the ridge beam to create the inverted plane.

The blocking was installed to follow the string lines setting the roof heights. This allowed the team to mark 16 inches on center to install each joist that meets a truss on both ends. To place each hanger, an off-cut of a 2×8 with the correct, angled cut was used to temporarily place and screw in the hangers according to blocking height and spacing.

Then each joist was field measured and placed into the hanger, checking height obsessively to ensure a flat plane. Once a bay was placed, checked, and rechecked, the joists were nail gunned to the hanger and truss. Blocking was added to keep 16 inch spacing and fix any bowing in the wood.

Once the joists in the center of the bays were completed, there was a new challenge in determining the correct spacing where the joists hit the edge beams or ridge beam. Since the beams intersect the form at an angle, varying based on the tolerance in their placement, measuring along the beam produced too many inaccuracies in keeping the joist spacing and ensuring the boards aren’t skewed.

Jigs were created for each beam similar to the truss in which the slope and skew of the cuts were determined and a sample “joist nub” was used to place the hanger. A 14.5 inch piece of wood was then attached to the side to butt up against the previously placed joist to determine spacing 16 inches on center, perpendicularly from the joist. Another 2×4 was also attached running along the top of the “joist nub” and spacer to keep the correct height. This allowed the team to attach the hangers, place a joist and then adjust if needed based on spacing from the master joist and height along the existing plane and strings.

The edge beam along the short side and the ridge beam involved a similar jig and process with slight alterations to match the difference in angles and cuts.

Now, all of the roof joists are installed except for the two low corners (due to tight space constraints with the scaffolding platform, the ceiling needs to be framed in these areas first). The ridge was the last section to be completed, giving a real sense of the roof shape and profile!

Looking down the ridge as it intersects the middle, diamond truss which shows the two flat planes and their relationship to the overall form.
Seeing the joists framing the ridge from below, inhabiting the structure.

Concurrently, the team worked on building the pieces that will form the soffit. Each soffit “wedge” will attach to the edge beam and continue the differing slopes of the roof and ceiling to meet at a 4 inch edge. These pieces will extend the perimeter of the pavilion while allowing the structure’s edge to get as thin as possible. Due to the 18 inch depth where the joists terminate, each wedge was too deep to be engineered out of 2-by material. Therefore, the arrival of new 3rd-year students and neck-downs brought a week of much needed extra help to laminate plywood with both glue and screws as well as set up an assembly line to cut the wedges out (three of these cuts being angled).

Over 90 wedges were completed with four unique templates for each pavilion edge! The next few weeks will be spent installing them. Check back in for a fully framed soffit and roof (hopefully) soon! Meanwhile, enjoy these action and detail shots of this last month of progress!