Learning Culture
A Place of Many Voices

Education—true education—comes from blending expertise, input, and experience to solve deep-rooted problems. It is about insight. It is about students making connections and developing their own measures of rigor and their own processes. At Rural Studio, we celebrate a philosophy of “many voices,” providing not only hands-on experience but also a culture of inquiry and shared ideas, of reflection and decision-making, and of playfulness. It’s important to have fun along the way. Students learn to listen to teammates, faculty, community members, and consulting experts. We give students encouraging but accurate feedback and generate deep dialogue; sometimes the voices may be contradictory or conflicting. It’s up to the students to decipher and resolve the conflict. The goals are the same for all: how we reach those goals is the challenge and the true learning. We try to create a healthy, safe, secure learning environment in which students can thoughtfully grow and find their own way. This is all part of our approach, and this can often be evident in the students’ project blogs, which offer a richer and more personal sense of Rural Studio’s teaching culture.

Ultimately, the design team must quietly reflect on feedback and choose how to proceed: the project is theirs, not the faculty’s. For 5th-year projects, which usually have four team members, the faculty collectively serves as more of an additional teammate, collaboratively offering suggestions, feedback, and support. The faculty contributes to the process of making final decisions and solutions, but in the end, these are owned by the design team. Any shortfalls are theirs too, and they are essential to the learning process. True failure is not in the shortfall but in the refusal to grow from it. In that sense, we leave room only for learning, not failure.


Our faculty members are key to creating the “many voices” culture. Acting together as a fifth teammate on design projects, they bring national and international training and practice to Rural Studio. The strength of collaboration is rooted in their range of perspectives as well as their common commitment to dignity, place, good design, and purpose. Students studying at Rural Studio benefit both from faculty members who have been active in the field since the 1980s and early 1990s and from more newly minted professionals with research in the best application of materials and coming recently from design firms. The breadth of faculty helps students reimagine concepts like community access to resources and consultant roles. Regardless of background, our faculty see commonalities among challenges rural architecture must address, from rural communities in Italy and Illinois to those in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Yet they also are attuned to the nuances of each structure’s and community’s place and purpose. All embrace the idea that design should be dignified, even for modest spaces with everyday uses. Most of all, Rural Studio faculty members create a culture that students honor: respect for clients and context, resourcefulness, critical capacity, and the ability to exceed expectations.

piece of paper that says "At Rural Studio, we celebrate a philosophy of “many voices,” providing not only hands-on experience but also a culture of inquiry and shared ideas, of reflection and decision-making, and of playfulness."


Our consultants are critical to giving students a range of perspectives, sharing their expertise early in the project design process as teammates, not as correctives. These consultants from around the world have built national and international reputations. We engage them to lecture and to participate in intensive 5th-year workshops and project reviews. They bring years of insight into architecture, landscape, environment, multiple types of engineering, and more. We emphasize that consultants are partners, not people to hire as an afterthought. Early integration of their expertise gives students an essential understanding of constraints and big questions students hadn’t thought to ask; it teaches them to identify and understand pragmatic restrictions, including building codes, and develop creative ways to realize their vision within those constraints.

Our Consultants

Anderson Inge
Architect & Structural Designer | Anderson Inge Building Workshop | Architectural Association | London, England

Cassandra Kellogg & Zane Morgan
Design and Fabrication | Blackshop | Birmingham, AL

Cheryl Noel & Ravi Ricker
Architects | Wrap Architecture | Chicago, IL

Courtney Windham
Associate Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Dan Wheeler
Architect & Professor | Wheeler Kearns Architects | University of Illinois at Chicago | Chicago, IL

Danny Wicke
Architect | CLB Architects | Jackson Hole, MT

David Baker & Amanda Loper
Architects | David Baker Architects | San Francisco, CA & Birmingham, AL

David Hill
Architect, Landscape Architect, Associate Professor | HILLWORKS | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Emilie Taylor Welty
Assistant Director | Design/Build, Tulane University | New Orleans, LA

Emily Knox
Assistant Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Frank Harmon
Architect | Frank Harmon Architects | Raleigh, NC

Jake LaBarre
Architect, Co-Instructor of Neighborhood Design Build Studio | The Miller Hull Partnership | University of Washington | Seattle, WA

Jennifer Pindyck
Assistant Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Jim Adamson
Architect & Builder | Jersey Devil Design Build | Miami, FL

Joe Burns
Engineer | Thornton Tomasetti | Chicago, IL

Joe Schneider & Kim Clements
Architects | JAS Design Build | Seattle, WA

Johanna Gilligan
Director of Community Development | Homewise | Sante Fe, NM

Julie Eizenberg & Hank Koning
Architects | Koning & Eizenberg | Los Angeles, CA

Katrina Van Valkenburgh
Managing Director, Central Region | Corporation for Supportive Housing | Chicago, IL

Kellie Stokes
Research Scientist of Urbanization and Global Change in the Terrestrial Information Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center | Washington, DC

Dr. Kevin White
Emeritus Professor | University of South Alabama | Mobile, AL

Kiel Moe
Architect, Professor of Practice | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Margaret Fletcher
Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Dr. Mark Barnett
Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Dr. Mark Elliot
Associate Professor | University of Alabama | Tuscaloosa, AL

Marlon Blackwell
Architect, Professor | Marlon Blackwell Architects | Fayetteville, AR

Meghan Walsh
Senior Architect | USDA Rural Development | Washington DC

Dr. Michelle Sidler
Associate Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Mike Newman
Architect | SHED Studio | Chicago, IL

Paul Stoller
Architect | Atelier Ten | Melbourne & Sydney, Australia

Pete Landon
Architect | Landon Bone Baker Architects | Chicago, IL

Peter Gluck
Architect | GLUCK+ | New York, NY

Roy Decker & Anne Marie Duvall Decker
Architects | Duvall Decker | Jackson, MS

Salmaan Craig
Professor | McGill University | Quebec, Canada

Steve Badanes
Architect, Builder & Professor | Jersey Devil Design Build | University of Washington | Seattle, WA

Dr. Susan Youngblood
Associate Professor | Auburn University | Auburn, AL

Tim MacFarlane
Engineer | Glass Light and Special Structures Limited | London, England

Timothy Hursley
Photographer | The Arkansas Office | Little Rock, AR

Tod Williams & Billie Tsien
Architects | Tod Williams & Billie Tsien Architects | New York, NY

Community Partners

We develop our community projects by working hand-in-hand with community partners, the many leaders both individual and collective. Leaders include mayors, commissioners, probate judges, and others. Collective committees range from boards, councils, departments, schools, and businesses to other organizations, such as civic organizations. As a design-build studio, our work and our faculty, staff, and students are situated within the local community. Even with our decades of work in Hale County, we will always be guests here. Our community partners, the residents who lead their communities, must speak for the local needs, not us. Rather than build what we can build, we rely on community partners to cultivate our understanding of what we should build. These long-term partnerships likely blossom into friendships between the partners and the students and faculty on project teams.

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