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Fall 2021 Neckdown Week

three young people stand together smiling wearing hard hats and harneses

This semester, Neckdown Week was as productive as ever, with the sun shining on us all week long. Neckdown is a studio tradition, during which all students and faculty work together to mend, clean up, or push forward our past and current projects. This time around we worked on student projects in Newbern and sent teams all the way out to Perry Lakes Park in Marion, AL.

At Perry Lakes Park, we cleaned up debris from a big storm that hit the park last year. We also worked on the plumbing for the bathrooms, which included a lot of digging. And we mean A LOT. Up on the Perry Lakes Birding Tower, we finally completed our objective of replacing all the rotten boards that we began removing during Neckdown last year! We hope all of you will be able to come visit the beautiful park as soon as it reopens in the very near future.

Back in good ole Newbern, teams of helpers working a several maintenance projects at our headquarters at Morrisette House. A few teams also worked alongside Eric at the Rural Studio Farm constructing raised garden beds. These beds, made from concrete blocks, are very time consuming to build correctly, and our helpers worked hard in the sun to make them look good and function well! We’d also like to give a shoutout and a big thank you to all of the Auburn University Landscape Architecture students and faculty who came out to Hale County to help us nourish Rural Studio’s outdoor spaces. The AULA cohort not only helped out at the Farm and Morrisette property, but they also worked in our courtyards in downtown Newbern and at Lion’s Park in Greensboro. Our plants and ground surfaces would not be as happy as they have been lately without you all. Thank you!

Our recent graduates also took advantage of a few Neckdown helpers this week to make some progress finishing up their projects! With assistance from new 3rd and 5th-year’s capable hands, our three “leftover” teams accomplished a huge amount of work! The Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team constructed two sets of stairs that lead down into their cooling porch. They also worked on installing battens on the exterior of their Research Pods!

The Myers’ Home team installed tongue-and-groove cypress boards on their interior core walls, and they worked with their helpers to nail their exterior flashing in place. Siding is coming up next for these folks. At Rev. Walker’s Home site, the team completed a massive amount of earth work in order to prep their site for its final grading. This process also included creating an outdoor gravel patio for their client to create a smooth transition from concrete slab to the adjacent ground surface.

Thank you to all the students, staff, and faculty that made all of this work possible this week!

That’s a Wrap

Our spring 2021 3rd-year students finished off their time at Rural Studio with a bang! The last couple of months in Hale flew on by, taking nine students away with them.

History Class

As the semester wrapped up, so did the seminar with their professor, Dick Hudgens. Students toured a few more pre-civil-war homes and Dick held final reviews for the students’ work. Out on the Spencer House front porch, each member of the class presented three months’ worth of sketches from house tours, watercolor work, and historic housing “Design Problems.” Thanks to Ian Crawford for attending the review and providing his wise-as-ever advice and expertise!

Shop Class

Students worked diligently until the very last hour, oiling and installing cabinets. Plywood cabinets finished with tung oil and paste wax were designed and built this semester for the following spaces in Ophelia’s new home: the kitchen, nook, utility room, bathroom, and bedroom. That’s a lot of cabinets! Nineteen, to be exact.

Cabinets are nearly ready for use!

Yes, they also built a house!

During the past few months, a lot happened at Ophelia’s Home. The remaining pieces of ZIP System sheathing were nailed into place by the Enclosures Team; Ashley, Juyeon, and Logan. Then windows, doors, and joints were meticulously taped.

After Ophelia chose a siding color—burgundy—the team got to work installing the corrugated metal cladding. By the end of the semester, these three students of the Enclosures Team were mastered cutting and installing metal panels.

a group of people gather to watch a woman present some color options
Pick a color, any color.

Remember those funky exterior design charrettes? The ones considering tricks-of-the-eye and optical illusions? Well, those design discussions came to fruition during siding installation. The metal corrugation runs in two directions, which helps enhance a new proportion on the front faces while disrupting the front corner of the house.

a view of a burgundy house in a big yard with a green-colored house in the background
Where does the porch wall terminate? You may never know.

The MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) Team—James, Kirby, and Wendy—spent their days putting together the many parts and pieces that give a house running water and power. These three students installed the entire MEP system for Ophelia’s Home from scratch! Because there’s so much that goes into these systems, they spent a whole lot of time driving to Lowe’s and back… and to Lowe’s and back again.

two students load a cart with pvc pipe in a hardware store
Gotta have plenty of pipe

While MEP and Enclosures Teams were working away, the Interiors/Rough Framing Team–Austin, Drew Haley, and Sadie–was steadily constructing the back stoop and front entrance to the house. They also put the finishing touches on the inside of the house. First, they tackled the back stoop: digging holes for three posts, constructing a platform, decking the platform, and building the stairs.

a set of wooden stairs lead to the door of a partially-clad house
Dang, that’s a nice lookin’ stoop.

The team then moved inside and recruited help from members of the MEP Team to paint the walls and ceiling and install laminate flooring.

a woman kneels over flooring boards while she hammers the pieces together
Tap, tap, tap

For Ophelia’s front entrance, this team built the formwork for and poured the concrete ramp! Many thanks are due to Andrew and Steve for helping with the ramp’s design and construction.

Ophelia’s Home: All Ramped Up

Pig Roast

The semester concluded with an “in-house” celebration of the Studio and the incredible body of work accomplished this year. We’ll miss these students dearly, and hope they return to Hale again soon (5th-year, perhaps?). Once a part of Rural Studio, always a part of Rural Studio.

Bye for now!

Pig Roast 2021

Rural Studio recently capped off the academic year with a “family style” Pig Roast. The celebration focused on the amazing work accomplished, live and in-person, during a successful, yet challenging, year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since March 2020, the entire studio was gathered together. With only students, faculty, current project community partners, and a few invited guests in attendance, we missed our other families: parents, alumni, collaborators, and neighbors who continue to support us in West Alabama. Invited guests included our friends Roy Decker of Duvall Decker and John Forney, architect and former Auburn and Rural Studio professor. The day included a tour of on-going projects, a lot of good food, a presentation from Roy Decker, and a bonfire.

a group of about 20 students gather together on wooden steps
The 3rd-year, 5th-year, graduate, and “left-over” students

Celebratory Breakfast at Horseshoe Courtyard

The day began with a celebratory breakfast at the Horseshoe Courtyard. Everyone admired the blooming screens and impeccably crafted steel while enjoying baked goods from the new local Egyptian bakery Abadir’s. The beautiful brick pad was the perfect place to toast students, Caleb R. Munson and Claudia Paz Melendez, alongside our community partner Dr. John Dorsey and the Project Horseshoe Farm fellows. The clients and the Studio both couldn’t be prouder of these two and their determination.

Ribbon cutting at Ophelia’s Home

Next up, the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 20K Ophelia’s Home! Four semesters of 3rd-year students, along with professor Emily McGlohn and instructor Chelsea Elcott, designed and built this lovely iteration of Joanne’s Home. Ophelia, her family, and the 2021 Spring Semester 3rd-Years cut the ribbon and let everyone inside to admire the new home. The students also gave a brief presentation on the cabinetry they designed and fabricated with Chelsea and professor Steve Long in the Rural Studio Wood Shop class.

Back to Morrisette for Lunch and TMBV

Back at Morrisette House, Chef Catherine and Doris served up a wonderful BBQ lunch. It was the first meal the Studio shared all-together since March 2020. Next on the schedule was a presentation from the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team.

The graduate students gave a brief description of their experiments, results, and how these informed the Test Building design at their site behind Morrisette House. They also showed off their newly installed structural steel columns and bracing. After a conversation on the possibilities of implementing internal thermal mass as passive ventilation and temperature control, everyone strolled over to the Fabrication Pavilion. Here, the team presented two of their mock-ups: one detailing the ventilated roofing and cladding system and one showing the shiplap joinery of the concrete panels. Congrats master’s students!

Off to Rev. Walker’s and Myers’ Homes

Next, the 5th-year teams had a turn to shine! First up, seen below, the Studio stopped at Rev. Walker’s Home. The expansive, newly completed slab the team presented upon will soon be the location of the pole barn home. This design focuses on the luxury of covered outdoor space. Two efficient living volumes rest under the large roof, which goes up in just a couple of weeks, allowing for dry, shaded construction! Client Rev. Walker joined in on the post-presentation debate, which was was a treat.

Last up on this long, fun, and hot day was the Myers’ Home presentation. The two-story, three-team member project focuses on interior expansion by creating a well-sealed envelope. The students will complete their portion of the build with two bedrooms and a large living kitchen space. There are opportunities for the client to expand the home in the attic and living areas. The attic can be converted into two additional rooms and another room can be added by enclosing part of the living space. During the presentation, the team changed out corrugated metals on their mock-up in real-time and took a vote from the crowd to decide which cladding color to choose. Both 5th-year teams have made tremendous progress on their innovative home designs and we can’t wait to see even more this summer.

Some fried catfish, books, a lecture, and S’mores

We returned to Morrisette House for a delicious catfish dinner prepared on site by our neighbors from the Newbern Mercantile. Afterwards, Director Andrew Freear presented the graduates with books picked out for each student from a list of favorites from the late Samuel Mockbee, one of Rural Studio’s co-founders. It was wonderful to see this tradition live on this year! Afterward, architect Roy Duvall of Duvall Decker from Jackson, Mississippi, gave a wonderful lecture presenting the work of his and partner Anne Marie Decker’s inspiring firm. The day finally capped off with a roaring fire and plenty of marshmallows. Not too bad for a Tuesday night!

It was amazing to see all the work completed at the Studio during this unusual and trying year. It was even better to get to be together and pat each other on the back. War Eagle!

a group of people stand in front of a large bonfire

Rural Studio is Inside Out

The Studio has been making the best of COVID-19 obstacles by prioritizing outdoor work for the past six weeks! Working outside has given students and staff the ability to learn about construction processes while also maintaining healthy and safe work protocols. Luckily, Rural Studio has quite a few tasks to accomplish around Hale and Perry County to keep them busy.

Perry Lakes Park student team at the end of a long work day

In the first couple of weeks of the semester, everyone came together (socially-distanced, of course) to clean up Morrisette campus. This work included laying and tamping gravel in the driveways, demolishing some old mock ups and a couple unused storage sheds, power washing the Great Hall and Fabrication Pavilion, and helping Eric on the farm.

Students have also been helping out at Perry Lakes Park, which has been closed for maintenance for the past few months. The Studio hopes that, after a little bit of work, they can help reopen the beautiful park to the public. Jobs to be completed were: replacing rotting boards on the bridge, walkways, and tower; replacing structural members underneath the walkways; rebuilding walkways that had been hit by fallen trees; and replacing rotting deck boards on the tower. This work is still in progress, but they expect to have the majority of the tasks complete in the coming week.

As the semester progresses, students have been working toward creating a balance between studio work and site work. On designated “studio days,” 3rd-year, 5th-year, and graduate students have been meeting with their faculty at new open-air pin up spots on Spencer House’s porch and under the Fabrication Pavilion. Next week, 5th- and 3rd-year will transition away from studio-wide work toward focusing on their own class projects. The 5th-years will soon choose their project teams and 3rd-years will start making more progress on 20K Ophelia’s Home!

Route it Out

As assigned, the teams have been diligently working towards their cabinet designs.  As part of their assignment, the teams built physical models, or mockups, of the cabinet itself.  This is a very common practice at the Studio, which is used to test the fabrication process.

This means that the students finally get to build something in a shop class! Because a large component of this course’s assignment is using a CNC router, instead of traditional shop equipment, a number of the students ventured back to Auburn’s shop at Dudley Hall and CNC’d the cabinet pieces.