Academic Programs
Learning by Doing

Come learn with us in Newbern! First, you must enroll in the Architecture Program at Auburn University. You can apply to participate in Rural Studio during your 3rd year and 5th year of the five-year undergraduate Bachelor of Architecture program.

In Hale County, living is learning, and we’ve learned a lot by living and working here for three decades. Rural Studio’s learning methods are deeply rooted in this corner of the world. Our students receive an education that’s as real as the people we serve.

When you enroll in the program, you commit to the place, to the people, and to the process. Studying here means living in a remote area where the summers are sweaty, the winters are muddy, and the cell service is spotty. When you study with us, you don’t just learn how to design and build, you learn to listen, work like a team, and make a difference in your own community.

2022 Fall Students, Staff, Faculty
2022 Fall Students, Staff, & Faculty

Undergrad 3rd-Year

The Undergraduate 3rd-Year Program is an optional program for Bachelor of Architecture students at Auburn University. Cohorts of up to sixteen 3rd-year students live on campus at Morrisette House in Newbern, one during the fall semester and one during the spring semester. Each semester, students work collectively to design and build a home for local clients in West Alabama.

Students work on a design studio project as part of a 14-16 person team, building a contemporary house out of wood using platform frame construction. Alongside that project, the 3rd-years focus on the craft, use, and history of wood in their program. The dessein class, a.k.a. chair making class, offers students the opportunity to study wood up close and really understand its properties by working it and handcrafting a fine piece of modern furniture; this course’s work is structured in small teams. The seminar, focusing on history and theory, studies how antebellum wooden homes can offer us lessons in making today’s architecture; its watercolor focus offers students a concentrated solo learning experience. Search our catalog of projects or follow the students’ project blogs for more details about the projects.

  • Seminar in Aspects of Design (informally, “History & Watercolor”)

    This history and theory seminar at Rural Studio familiarizes the 3rd-year students with the built environment in Alabama’s Black Belt. It communicates the national and international context of wooden buildings—the physical, social, and cultural environments—when they were built and how they relate to the world today. They study how wooden buildings have survived so long (raised off the ground out of the water with big overhanging roofs), how they were naturally ventilated (with narrow plans good cross ventilation, high ceilings, operable transom windows and porches that shaded the building), and how they gave human comfort (the great porches). Students travel weekly to historic wood buildings in West Alabama, then discuss and free hand sketch each building. Student work culminates in a “Beaux Arts” watercolor of a historic wood building in the Black Belt.

    Watercolor of St. Luke's Episcopal Church
    Watercolor of Ormond-Little House
  • Dessein (informally, “Chair Making Class”)

    Our 3rd-year students in this furniture-making course acquire solid woodworking by developing and designing the process of recreating iconic Modernist architect designed chairs through research, drawing, modeling, and building. The final products are extensive drawings, jigs, mock-ups, and the actual reproduction of the chair. By removing the design of the object from the process, the students focus on construction technique and craft. They acquire a greater understanding of the properties of wood by using only hand tools: we don’t use CNC routers or digital technology. The challenge is to craft by hand and to “feel” the material.

Undergrad 5th-Year

The Undergraduate 5th-Year Program is an optional program for up to twelve Bachelor of Architecture students in their final year at Auburn University. Teams of four students formulate sustainable building programs, fundraise, make community presentations, and design and build homes or community projects from foundation to roof. Search our catalog of projects or follow the students’ project blogs for more details about the projects.

Working with a team, a client, and the real-world implications of details are what make work out here so challenging and rewarding. Drawing is everywhere in architecture school, but out here, I’ve learned how useful it can be for communication in a team.

Adam Davis, 5th-year student from Spanish Fort, Alabama

Do you have questions about accommodations, fees, or academic requirements? Contact for more information about studying at Rural Studio.

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