Rural Studio Blog

Neck Up And Down

Student smiling sitting on metal stairs

Hale County has been scrubbed, painted, and shined twice over this week. The first “Neckdown Week” of 2023 is complete! We spent the week maintaining community projects around Newbern and Greensboro alike. In Greensboro, the Safe House Black History Museum got a fresh coat of paint. The Newbern Firehouse, Bodark Amphitheater, and Newbern Playground were also cleaned and repainted.

One of our biggest tasks for Neckdown Week was building a new set of raised garden beds in the Rural Studio Farm Greenhouse. It took a lot of hands and shovels, but the Farm is now ready for a new planting season. The team also found some surprises hiding in the soil. We took a brief mid-week intermission from diggin’ and paintin’ to help Patriece’s Home team unload some of their roofing material. The projects are still moving right along as we all get our hands dirty!

It was a long week of early mornings. But there was plenty of time for fun (and sometimes, cake) while we took care of this place we call home. Neckdown Week was a perfect warm-up for what’s looking like a great semester. Our students and faculty are ready to really get to work! Follow along to see what spring brings for all of the current projects: Patriece’s Home, C.H.O.I.C.E. House, Rosie’s Home, 18×18 House, and Rural Studio Bathhouse.

A Productive Year

An aerial shot of the farm taken from a drone that shows the many row crops growing and students working
Photo by Timothy Hursley

It has been quite an eventful year at Rural Studio Farm.

The morning sun in the summer greenhouse with workers busy tending crops
Photo by Timothy Hursley

With the start of the new academic year in the fall, we had to say goodbye to Jackie Rosborough, one of our student assistant managers.

An assistant manager stands with a shovel in front of the tool shed
Photo by Timothy Hursley

Jackie, along with our other assistant manager, Laurel Holloway, was an integral part of what made this year so successful. Though we are sad to see Jackie depart, we are thrilled to welcome a new student assistant manager, Ambar Ashraf from Atlanta, to our team!

In the spring, we began piloting our CSA program to students and staff, which delivered several hundred pounds of fresh seasonal produce, herbs, and flowers to members across 30 weeks.

The CSA allowed us to grow a wider variety of crops for the first time—many of which were very successful, like Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel, and shallots. It’s our hope that we can broaden the scope of the CSA’s membership for next year’s growing season to include the broader community of Hale County.

This past year, we also began working with the Black Belt Food Project and Project Horseshoe Farm to donate several hundred pounds of extra food to their produce stand, which runs on a “take what you want, pay what you can” model.

To help harvest for and run the produce stand, and to help with the farm in general, we welcomed two new Project Horseshoe Farm fellows, Lauren Widmann and Sonja Lazovic, who have succeeded past fellows Maggie Rosenthal, Ellie Hough, and Bess Renjillian.

The Farm also hosted two events this year: a local food and sustainable agriculture summit and dinner in March and the Food for Thought event in October (with the Newbern Library and the Black Belt Food Project).

Finally, our Farm Manager, Eric, began graduate school in Auburn in the fall, pursuing a degree in crop, soil, and environmental science. The Farm continues to thrive and expand, and the next year is going to be even more productive!

We Don’t Want to Freeze

Around these parts, Kermit isn’t the only green guy movin’ right along! Keep reading to see how our team’s been preparing the units to leap into winter.

main units viewed from street

First things first—both the units and the third volume are fully sheathed! Having a fully enclosed “shell” to work in offers a couple advantages: As it gets colder, we can focus our efforts inside the units and away from winter wind.

In addition, we’re planning to take a couple weeks off at the end of the year to celebrate the holidays and spend time with family, so having a waterproof layer of sheathing protecting our wood framing offers some peace of mind during our hiatus.

We also had the privilege of receiving our first big group of visitors since last May’s Pig Roast. Each December, current 3rd- and 5th-years present their work to external reviewers for an end-of-the-year critique. To kick off the day, students, faculty, reviewers, friends, and family alike caravanned to our site for a quick look at our headway. Some of our visitors hadn’t seen the project since it was still on paper, so it was exciting to share our progress.

AC presents to visitors

Getting right back to work, we installed the fascia and wrapped it with metal flashing. The width of the fascia gives the appearance of a thickened roof plane or “hat” that reveals itself under the porch as an assembly of thin layers. How’s that for a detail you can hang your hat on?

Moving inside, we poured both units’ showers. With those last two pours, all of our interior concrete is done. That means as soon as we return in January, we can dive right into framing our interior walls. 

Now, the team is signing off for a much needed break. Make good C.H.O.I.C.E.s, and we’ll see you all in January.

holiday card from the team

Eat, Drink, and Get Soup-Roasted!

Welcome back to the latest edition of the Rural Studio Bathhouse blog!

During the week before Thanksgiving, we welcomed Ann Marie Duvall Decker and Shannon Gathings from Duvall Decker Architects out of Jackson, Mississippi. They presented some of the amazing work they are doing and were an excellent help in providing meaningful feedback of our project. They really challenged us to think about the formal and sectional qualities of our building.

After Thanksgiving, we were hard at work preparing for Soup Roast. We prepared two, 2-bar schemes that explored the different placement options for the kitchen/dining space and the bathhouse, attached to a central accessible maintenance core. Both schemes consider the design of the entry sequence into the Supershed and leave a bay of the Supershed open next to the Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project pods for a possible future pod. More sectional ideas for the projects were explored as well, as one scheme looked at using a butterfly roof and the other looked at using a system of skylights. 

The team produced drawings for both schemes and made a full-scale painted out mock-up of one of the iterations to fully understand the spaces.

Drawing boards pinned to wall
The Soup Roast boards showing the two schemes

At Soup Roast, we welcomed back to Hale County some of our old friends, Kim Clements and Joe Schneider from J.A.S. Design Build and Jake LaBarre from Miller Hull in Seattle. We also welcomed Jim Adamson, Mike Freeman, Nicole Abercrombie, and Will McGarity, into the fold of our project. With the reviewers having an abundance of expertise in many different areas, the team was pleased to receive tons of excellent feedback.

Students and reviewers walk around site
The students and reviewers walked around the full-scale mock-up to understand the proposed spaces

After the roasting portion of the day was completed, the team was happy to get to relax and enjoy some delicious soup with friends and visitors!

One of the biggest concerns raised during the review, was the scale and scope of the project. The team spent the day after the review charretting through several ideas on how to reduce the overall size of our project. We have begun working on eliminating extra spaces within the plans and has also investigated the possibility of reusing existing structures on site to reduce the scope of the project. This will continue to be explored in the upcoming weeks as the team looks to settle in on a solution.

students present as reviewers watch
A final presentation of our ideas after the Soup Roast charrette

As this is being written, the team has left Hale County for winter break. This does not mean that the project is on pause. While we are not all together, we are still meeting online and working hard to continue the design process. 

Thank you so much for reading about our project and following along with us. We hope that everyone has a great holiday season, and we cannot wait to show our progress in the new year!

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team 

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan

2022 Soup Roast

Rural Studio’s Fall semester culminates in the annual Soup Roast, which is typically attended by longtime consultants Jersey Devil’s design/build legend Jim Adamson, and the Seattle crew: Jake LaBarre from Miller Hull and J.A.S. Design Build principals Kim Clements and Joe Schneider. This year, we also were joined by Mike Freeman and Nicole Abercrombie (both from J.A.S.), as well as Auburn faculty and Rural Studio alumnus Will McGarity and our Front Porch Initiative team, Rusty Smith, Mackenzie Stagg, Betsy Farrell Garcia. Together they critiqued the work of our 5th-year students with good humor and a fun spirit, despite the unpredictable West Alabama weather. This time was also used to celebrate the progress made by Fall semester 3rd-years on their project, Rosie’s Home, as well as their History and Woodshop class projects. We capped off Soup Roast Review (Day One) with a hot bowl of soup, bonfires, and Hale County tea.

A new tradition, Soup Roast Day Two, gave us a chance to workshop and charrette ideas from the previous day’s reviews with our 5th-year teams and visitors. Afterwards, Jake, Jim, and Mike each inspired students with brief lectures drawn from their own work. And finally, we were treated to a very special dinner created by Kim Clements and another friend from Seattle, Courtney Aguirre, using lots of Rural Studio Farm produce.

Cheers to another semester designing and building in West Alabama. We couldn’t do it without all of our supporters. Thank you!