Rural Studio Blog

Here Comes the Leftovers

Students walk across the street

Since the team’s last blog post, a lot has happened. All of April was spent preparing for Pig Roast and the Executive Reviews that followed. The team focused on refining our thesis to fit our goals. We tried to bring the level of detail of the whole house up to as high a standard as possible. There always seems to be another layer of detail to dive into as we learn more about the project.

One to one detail drawing of whole house section.

These big upcoming reviews naturally meant that we needed to spend more time on how the house feels inside and out. We are having a good time zooming out of detail land and drawing through how the elevations may look and what kind of interior finishes we want. We have some general criteria for making these decisions, but we are approaching a time when seeing how these things look in real life is becoming ever more important.

We also finally have a site! Due to the nature of our project being non-site-specific, it made sense to spend a certain amount of time designing the house without the bias of knowing where our version would go. We are excited to dive deeper into the site, analyzing every inch. It is a fairly flat site surrounded by trees and is undeveloped land. Also, it is located right off the road in downtown Newbern. With those kinds of projects so close by, we have a high bar to live up to!

Model of house photoshopped onto site photo

We still have to explore through drawings, models, and research before we can try building. Still, a mock-up is on the horizon. While the finishes are important, the most critical parts of the building process are what needs to be tested with this mock-up. The processes of building, moving, installing, and protecting these cores throughout that duration are the real focus of our thesis, along with how all of that will impact the house.

Pig Roast!

Enough about the preparations. We had a great Pig Roast Weekend! Both 5th-year teams worked hard and we all felt our presentations went well. It was a beautiful day, and the wind blew our drawings away only once, nice! We tried to have some fun and act out our building process. A little improv went a long way. In the end, it was great to celebrate with friends and family, the event at Chantilly was unforgettable.

Did someone say leftovers?!

After all that fun, we had to go to Auburn for the much less fun but equally (in some ways) important Graduation. So that’s it. We are adults now who have all the answers to everything. There is nothing we are unprepared for in the real world because now we have a degree. All jokes aside, it has been a pleasure to spend our final school year at Rural Studio, we are so thankful for our time at Auburn and beyond excited to start our time as leftovers to continue the hard work.

Students pose together at graduation

30th Anniversary Pig Roast

Rural Studio 30th Anniversary Pig Roast Fireworks (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Auburn University Rural Studio celebrated its 30th anniversary on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27th at the 2024 Pig Roast, the annual event that highlights the year’s work and our home, West Alabama. The “Roast” in Pig Roast refers not only to how the pork at the final meal is prepared but also to the roasting and toasting of our graduating 5th-year architecture students. The event has grown into a two-day experience that features distinguished alumni speakers, stellar foods from local eateries, tours of and updates on Rural Studio projects and initiatives, live music, fireworks, and a shower of confetti (“Whiffle Dust”). It pulls together members of the Hale County community, faculty and staff, students and their families, program alumni, visiting architects, and university representatives. Often the Studio has a project opening to throw into the mix as well.

Pig Roast is its own experience, one that can’t be captured in a program or recap of activities, though you can read that below. You must dive in to fully understand. Imagine a day and a half with almost no cell phones in sight. With people shaking hands and hugging, deeply engaging in conversation. With everyone giving students their rapt attention and marveling at what these young people have designed and accomplished in such a short time. Picture a project ribbon cutting with a client couple who are so moved that the husband breaks out in a Gospel song, and visitors so moved that, in all their diversity, they hush, punctuating the rhythm with claps as his voice floats over the yard with the smell of the wild grasses. Close your eyes to see clusters of children running free on the grassy hill of an amphitheater, a few collecting confetti and proudly presenting it to parents who are sitting on blankets and letting music fill their souls.

30 years?!

100+ Rural Studio alumni in attendance for the Pig Roast 30th Anniversary weekend! (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

This year’s Pig Roast was an extra-big deal. Thirty years ago, Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth ran with the then-radical vision of putting down roots in a little rural community, hours away from their university to teach students the value of rural, to teach them that place matters and that good design is for everyone, to cultivate what Mockbee called “citizen architects.” Their commitment laid the course for Andrew Freear’s directorship, which began in 2002, and for the Studio’s educational success. Over three decades, the program has educated more than 1250 students at our humble Hale County campus. This year, the celebration included over four hundred people, with alumni coming from as far as England. Families of both founders joined, too.

First Night: Alumni and Dinner!

Alumni Lectures begin in Horseshoe Courtyard (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The first night’s festivities started in Greensboro with a spread catered locally by Mo Kitchen of The Stable and Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. Every part of dinner and dessert tantalized, but Sarah Cole’s dukkah roasted carrots left the crowd scrambling for seconds and thirds. Dukkah is an Egyptian dish of spiced nuts and seeds, and the lemon tahini sauce and chili oil drizzle had everyone talking. Other dishes, too, used fresh-grown foods from Rural Studio Farm. Alumnus Alex Henderson played guitar in the Horseshoe Courtyard, a space designed and transformed by Studio students between 2018 and 2021. Alex Therrien, who was also one of the speakers, DJed the event after the alumni presentations.

Alumni speakers represented many phases of Rural Studio’s development, starting with two who attended during the Mockbee/Ruth years.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Ruard Veltman ’95, Charlotte, NC
  • Steve Durden ’95, Nashville, TN
  • Jacquelyn (Jacqui) Overbey Hart ’98, Birmingham, AL
  • Trent (Trinity) Davis ’01, Mobile, AL
  • Abby Davis ’04, Mobile, AL
  • Hana Loftus ’05, Colchester, England
  • Brittany Foley ’09, Birmingham, AL
  • Candace Rimes ’10, Atlanta, GA
  • Stephen Kesel ’12, St. Louis, MO
  • Thomas Johnston ’14, Seattle, WA
  • Callie Kesel ’15, St. Louis, MO
  • Alex Therrien ’15, Los Angeles, CA
  • Anna Halepaska ’19, Montreal, Canada

They’ve taken a variety of paths, but each has been on an exciting adventure. In true Rural Studio fashion, alumni were earnest and self-effacing. In 13 PechaKucha-style talks, alumni reflected on their individual journeys, capturing the joyful spirit of chasing heartfelt ideals and passions.

Second day: Project tours and such

Day two highlighted work by students, faculty, and staff before turning to dinner, honors, and entertainment. It began in Newbern with a breakfast of fresh cinnamon rolls from local Wayside Bakery at Rural Studio’s Great Hall, a long, open-sided gathering space. Attendees likely doubled Newbern’s population. The group carpooled north to the first project stop, following Andrew Freear’s classic tropical blue 1966 Ford F-100 truck sporting two flags on the back: the American flag and Auburn’s flag. The Hale County Sheriff’s Office helped the long line cross AL-69. Drivers heading south respectfully pulled over, likely thinking they were watching a funeral procession. Far from it, though! Over the course of the day, this large crew learned about, toured, and celebrated five student projects: the 18×18 House, Rural Studio Bathhouse, the Fabrication Pavilion, CLT Core House, and Rosie and Frankie’s Home. The last project included a ribbon cutting, with a yellow ribbon almost the length of the home and a bow the size of a barrel top. And, of course, it included Frankie breaking out into the Gospel song “Jesus Will Never Say No,” pouring out his joy with a resonant voice. While these student accomplishments filled our hearts, we were also nourished by a taco-and-sides lunch featuring an awesome salad by Abadir’s, made with produce from Rural Studio Farm.

Visitors also learned from Emily McGlohn about the Rural Wastewater Demonstration Project that is testing a solution for the Black Belt’s wastewater crisis, as well as from Mackenzie Stagg and Betsy Farrell Garcia about the Front Porch Initiative, which is bringing Rural Studio designs and technical assistance to 24 housing provider partners in ­­­­12 states. Directly after lunch, Eric Ball introduced guests to the ins and outs of the Farm, starting in the greenhouse. Steve Long then presented student work from the 3rd-Year Woodshop Class, a course in which students use hand tools to craft three classic designs of chairs, in the process learning the properties of wood and the techniques for craftsmanship. Next, Dick Hudgens showcased student work from the 3rd-Year History Class, where students tour historical homes and buildings that have stood the test of time and become intimately familiar with their form and function as they produce sketches and a final Beaux Arts watercolor of an assigned building.

Woodshop Class presentation by Instructor Steve Long (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Pomp and circumstance

Parade to the Bodark Amphitheatre in Newbern (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

The ceremonial part began in the late afternoon with a parade back to Chantilly House, just north of the main campus’s Morrisette House on AL-61, Newbern’s main street. The return to Chantilly was its own procession. The wee woo of the fire engine announced the parade’s arrival at least a quarter mile before local friend Bobby Scott pulled his truck onto the grass towing his black smoker. Students helped serve roasted pork and fried catfish, and still folks had their cell phones tucked away. People mingled and ate while Rural Studio alumnus Hana Loftus played her fiddle with Chip Spencer and friends from Marion Junction, AL. Bluegrass, y’all!

Whiffle Dust Welcome (Photo by Timothy Hursley)

Everyone knew to turn their attention to the front of the Bodark Amphitheatre when they were showered with confetti during the traditional Whiffle Dust Welcome. The honors were many and the program substantial. Emcees Andrew Freear and Emily McGlohn kept everyone engaged with humor, sass, and an unwaveringly high level of energy. Samuel Mockbee’s wife Jackie and D.K. Ruth’s wife Linda were in attendance with their families for this special occasion. Andrew and Emily brought them up on the stage, as well as the Walthall family, longtime supporters of the Studio. The Walthall family recently donated the Red Barn Studio to Rural Studio, and we plan to name the main space after their father, Robert Walthall, Sr.

Auburn University Provost Vini Nathan was in attendance. Interim Dean Karen Rogers of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction spoke, and she honored Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth by announcing that each had been posthumously awarded emeritus status.

“Leftover” student Jake Buell received the Samuel Mockbee Book Award, a new award sponsored by Wanda Dye, our friend and former student of Mockbee, to honor a recent graduate with a passion for art and architecture. One copy of the art book, selected by Wanda, was gifted to Jake and another copy was gifted to the Newbern Library.

Dick Hudgens brought his singular experience to the microphone. As the only current Studio faculty member who has been there since the beginning, he spoke on the sense of place that the Studio cultivates and the “local identity” that students learn to appreciate so they can “solv[e] problems in a thoughtful and beautiful way.” A kindred spirit to Rural Studio, the extraordinary Roy Decker of Duvall Decker Architects in Jackson, MS, who gave the valediction speech, said “What is special about the Rural Studio is that it is a place with integrity searching for a better tomorrow.”

The group celebrated Brenda Wilkerson (who retires this summer after 22 years) and Catherine Tabb who retired this spring, as well as alumnus and instructor Judith Seaman, who is moving on to her next adventure after four years here.

The eight 5th-year students—the graduates—smiled, laughed, and mugged for the audience as Steve Long and John Marusich took turns roasting each one. First up was the Fabrication Pavilion team: Marcelo Aldrete, Anna Leach, Tatum DeBardeleben, and Laura Forrest. Then came the CLT Core House team: Connor Warren, Sarah Recht, Peter Harping, and Paris Copeland. Paris’s accomplishments were recognized outside of Rural Studio, and Andrew had the pleasure of announcing these awards: the BTES Edward Allen Student Award, the ARIA (Interior Architecture) Book Award, and the Meyer Davis Portfolio Prize Honorable Mention.

Just as Whiffle Dust (the confetti shower) ushered in the stage ceremonies, fireworks closed them out. The fireworks started with an intensity seen in the finale of grand shows. The audience tilted their heads back, immersed in the light, crackle, and booms. The folk-rock band Small Trucks (alumnus Dan Splaingard and Joseph Gorman) opened the evening entertainment, performing a series of originals and covers. Headliner Alvin Youngblood Hart then took the stage, wowing the crowd with his selection of blues songs. One audience member described his performance as transcendent, as music that carries you away.

Campaigns for the future, near and far

Rural Studio raised money for three different projects during the 2024 Pig Roast. Third-year students sold coaster sets stamped with the 30th anniversary logo; the coasters were made of the same Marmoleum that they installed in Rosie and Frankie’s home. (Marmoleum is a more healthful alternative to traditional linoleum.) Each purchase supported buying Rosie and Frankie a stove, and the team sold out, meeting their goal. Also, students staffed merchandise tables at events to raise money for the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). People lined up to buy apparel, totes, pins, sketchbooks, and posters, for starters, netting about $6,000 for NOMAS. And finally, Andrew Freear announced Rural Studio’s 30th Anniversary Endowment Campaign. With 14 slots filled, the Studio hopes to reach a total of 30 donors/groups pledging $30,000 each over the next five years ($6,000 per year) to ensure a solid future—a solid next 30 years—for its architectural education program. There’s still room to be one of the 30!

Thank you to our Pig Roast Sponsors!

We want to give a very special thank you to our Pig Roast sponsors: Alabama Power; Poole & Company; Seay, Seay & Litchfield Architects; AERCON; Bill Mackey Real Estate; Clary’s Country Market; Faunsdale Cafe; Greensboro Pie; Hale County Hospital; Patrick Braxton & family; Reynolds Electric & Refrigeration; Seale Holmes Ryan, LLC; The Partridge Berry; Blue Shadows B&B; NAPA Auto Parts; Peoples Bank; Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee; Dozier Hardware; Michael Harrow Realty; Holmestead Company; Stillwater Machine; The Smelley family; The Stable; Citizens Bank; A1 Fitness; City Furniture; and Wood Fruitticher.

War Eagle, y’all! Cheers to another 30!

Taking a Slab at It: A Bathhouse Concrete Story!

Hello dearest reader and welcome back to the latest edition of the Rural Studio Bathhouse blog!

The past few months have been a very exciting and productive period for the Bathhouse. We are very happy to share what all we’ve been up to since we last spoke!

Students pose for picture on metal deck

At the time of our last update, we had just finished all the underground plumbing and preparing the CMU foundation walls for the floor structure.

We picked up on site where we left off by moving the structural beams into their places in the foundation walls and securing them in place!

View of students looking over metal deck from below
Greetings, Earthlings!

After cutting our metal decking to size, we were able to place the decking and began securing it to the CMU walls. Our good friend, Shane, helped us out by welding the decking down to the beams.

Once the deck was in place, it was time for Spring Break, but we did not take a break from the project. We had a very relaxing week in the woodshop building all the modular formwork for the slab!

Student screws pieces of wood together
Assembling base module supports

Once it was all built, we got busy on site installing the formwork. We started off with ledger boards on the CMU walls, then installed the base support modules and plywood base, and finally pulled strings to set the upright walls in place. We then braced these walls back to the base and added plywood to the inside face, completing the formwork.

image of completed formwork
Finished formwork

When the formwork was set, it provided a nice square base to measure all the penetrations in the slab from. We started off with the holes for the threaded rods.

Next, we marked out all the electrical and plumbing penetrations in the decking and cut them out.

While all of this was going on, we also began plumbing the whole Bathhouse and installing all the electrical conduit and boxes in the crawlspaces. While plumbing was occurring, rebar was being cut to size on the ground. We used bracing attached to the formwork walls to help support the PVC sleeves for the threaded rods and the plumbing and electrical stub outs.

After all the plumbing was completed and tested, we were able to begin putting the rebar reinforcement into place.

The team tied all the pieces together to form a large rebar mat for the slab. With the rebar in place, it was time to add in the last thing, metal mesh, which helps prevent cracking within the slab. The team finished this final step just in time to celebrate at Pig Roast!

We had a great time on Friday night of Pig Roast weekend listening to all the alumni lectures and really enjoyed getting to show off our project and the progress we have made to all our friends and families on Saturday. We finished the day off with an evening of festivities, great food, and wonderful live music.

The team speaking with former Rural Studio student
The bathhouse team meeting and looking at construction photos with original Supershed and Bathhouse team member, Jacqui Hart!

After a weekend of fun, it was quickly back to work for the bathhouse team! First thing Monday morning we got Concrete! An excellent team from JM concrete in nearby Uniontown made quick work of the pour and did a fantastic job with the finishing.

team posing with thumbs-up for concrete
Thumbs up for concrete!

We are so proud to have the heart of the project completed!

As she stands now

We are so happy to share the huge amount of progress being made! Next, we will be preparing to pour all the curbs under the timber walls and beginning the process of stacking the timber modules for the walls.

The team poses in front of project

Thanks so much for reading along and we hope to provide another exciting update very soon!

– Rural Studio Bathhouse Team

Carla, Ambar, Ashley, and Logan 

Springing to the Third Annual Farm Dinner

For the third year running, we gathered to enjoy the Spring Fest Farm Dinner.

Carrot soup

The dinner spotlights small-scale sustainable agriculture, features community members exploring methods to support our local food system, and celebrates local foods with a farm-fresh meal.

The evening began with a golden hour tour of the Rural Studio Farm led by the Farm Manager, Eric Ball. Eric showed us around the Farm and greenhouse and explained the mission, to serve as a model for sustainable agriculture and student engagement, integrating educational, environmental, and social goals.

Following the tour, Emily McGlohn led everyone to the far corner of campus for an exclusive look into the new wastewater treatment system. She has piloted Rural Studio’s partnership with a statewide consortium to demonstrate the effectiveness of implementing a cluster-design sanitary sewer in rural areas, upgrading local residences with problematic septic systems to enhance rural community health.

Finally, we shared dinner in the Great Hall. The meal was crafted by Santa Fe residents, Brad Hart and Johanna Gilligan, friends and consultants of Rural Studio.

The meal started with a soup: a smooth blend of fresh carrots and ginger, garnished with chopped herbs. Next, the salad course featured farm-fresh lettuce and other veggies, tossed in a creamy herb dressing.

Set dinner table

A southern-style cassoulet was the star and main course of the evening, a hearty and flavorful dish featuring smoked pork sausage, tender white beans, chicken, and leafy greens, slow-cooked to perfection with Southern spices.

Finally, for dessert, there was an Aperol Spritz Trifle Cake, a unique dessert layering the flavors of orange prosecco cake and Aperol pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and garnished with fresh mint.

In addition to Rural Studio faculty and staff, we were thrilled to have all these friends join us. Thank you for a wonderful evening!

Barbara Williams, Newbern Library

Newbern, AL

Sarah Cole, Abadir’s & Black Belt Food Project

Greensboro AL

John Dorsey,  Project Horseshoe Farms 

Greensboro, AL

LaShanda Richardson and Sarah Hallmark, Projet Horseshoe Farms

Greensboro, AL

Jenna Hartstein & Sam Somerville, Project Horseshoe Farm Fellows and Rural Studio Farm volunteers

Greensboro AL

Jovita Lewis, Hale County Auburn Extension

Greensboro, AL

Nicole Dugat, Schoolyard Roots

Tuscaloosa, AL

Heather Knowles & Jonathan Gardner, Windy Van Hooten Teaching Garden

Gadsden, AL

Casey Hobbs, Red Bird Produce

Birmingham, AL

Emma Chapman Busby, Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN)

Tuscaloosa, AL

Ted Flato, Lake Flato Architects

San Antonio, TX

Johanna Gilligan, Brad Hart, Grow Dat Youth Farm 

Santa Fe, NM

Set table under the Great Hall

With Strong Steel and Friendship: It’s All Column Together

It’s time for another check-in on the Rural Studio Fabrication Pavilion. We have been working on column repairs, construction plans, and new structural ideas. In addition, we’ve been reevaluating our goals for weather screens on campus.

Column Construction

In the last month, we replaced the splice plates on the final sets of columns. With the help of the CLT Core House team and the 3rd-years, we were able to transport and disassemble the excess scaffolding. Now the slab is clear for the next phase of the renovation: the roof.

Raising the Roof

The main dilemma of repairing the Fabrication Pavilion roof is what the new structure will be made of. The roof acts as a diaphragm that links all the trusses in the Pavilion together, allowing them to act as one. So, the new roof needs to be strong and able to span the distance between each truss. It must also achieve our aesthetic goals for the project. After working through full-sized detail drawings with our professors and guest consultants like Dan Wheeler, we concluded that our best option for ceiling material is structural metal decking.

The Shear Possibilities

As we consider the design of our western extension, our team has decided to expand on what Rural Studio has learned about bypass construction from the original Pavilion. Rather than making the structure out of large, heavy pieces, we will use an aggregation of smaller steel members joined with through bolt connections. Using smaller pieces to create a larger system will make the construction process easier for our team. This method will also allow us to make consistent column connections to other parts of the structure, such as the roof and weather screen.

We plan to remove the Fabrication Pavilion’s western shear wall to open up the space around the loading dock. As a result of this decision, the new steel structure needs to be rigid enough to replace it. After a conversation with our structural engineer, we have begun using ENERCALC to refine our ideas, especially through testing the shear capabilities of each of our structural column schemes. This testing has resulted in the design of a vertical column truss that can handle the building’s heavy wind loads.

Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen

Over the past month, we have been working through a variety of weather screen designs. We have evaluated each idea’s materiality, rain protection, and resultant light quality. Recently, we have been experimenting with schemes that cover a larger portion of the south side of the Fabrication Pavilion. This approach will provide protection from our most aggressive rain as well as create a ‘theater of construction’ that can be seen from Morrisette House.

Stay tuned to see what is to come, and see you at Pig Roast!