Straightening Ducks and Mocking-Up

Students stand proudly on dug trenches for mockup.
Duck Ahead!

In the time since our graduation, the world has kept spinning. The team quickly returned to work on the project with the time for outside work quickly approaching.

After all the labor poured into iteration and preparation, we are ready to make our plans a reality. In Rural Studio fashion that means it’s mock-up time! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We must get all our ducks in a row, or at least some of them into a decently straight line. We worked on transforming the core and house elements to a smaller scale, while also putting the finishing touches on details with the help of Dan Wheeler.

Dan Wheeler sketches over 1 to 1 detail drawings.

We are also double and triple-checking our structural strategy with Joe Burns. On top of this, we met with Thomas Paterson to discuss our general lighting strategies, which, like many other things, needs more iteration. With all this help, everything is looking good enough to get started. So, we have officially broken ground on our mock-up and things are progressing smoothly.

It is fascinating to realize that there is another layer of complexity in construction that we must reckon with beyond the seemingly overwhelming complexity we face with our drawings and design. It is a lot to keep track of and easy to make a mistake, which you then find yourself taking time to fix. One of the incredible opportunities of Rural Studio is that we must work through all these problems as a team and truly understand the repercussions of what we design. No one does it for you; if we find a problem, we must think ourselves out of it.

Groundbreaking News: We Broke Ground

So where are we today? Well, we are busy finishing the foundation trenches and prepping our pieces for the assembly. We have built the core base and the walls. We also have the formwork assembled and rebar cut to size.

Materials and pallet for the project organized on Fab Pav.

Throughout, we have been critiquing and altering our process and design. As soon as we finished the core base, we became aware of how we would build differently and how it would be designed differently. We all know that design has a long way to go and that even as the house itself is built, we will see things we would change if we could do it again. But that’s for future teams to figure out.

For now, we are pleased with our progress and do not want to slow down anytime soon. At the time of writing this, we are hoping to pour our mock-up slab in one week! It has been a welcome change of pace to do some physical work. We’ll see how long that disposition lasts in this heat. But for now, we are happy to swim through the humidity towards our next task.

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. Our site is fairly flat undeveloped land, surrounded by trees. Also, it is located right off the road in downtown Newbern. With the downtown 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. Even so, a mock-up is on the horizon. While the finishes are important, the most critical parts of the building process are what need to be tested with this mock-up. The processes of building, moving, installing, and protecting these cores throughout that duration is the real focus of our thesis, along with how all of that process 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, and 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

Best Footing Forward

Collage of slab to core connections

Welcome back to the CLT Core House team blog! It has been a busy month filled with details and deliberation. As the title suggests, we have been focused on our footing design, particularly on the connection of our heavy and bulky CLT core to our concrete slab. We wish it were as simple as just “screwin’ er’ down.” However, because the slab will be on grade at ground level, we’ve found it difficult to design the right detail. We have worked through many kinds of solutions, all of which we eventually dropped for either being too complicated or too messy.

While working through footing details, we have identified the need for our core to be a six-sided box that arrives on-site wrapped like a present with a bow: something that you only unwrap once you are finished with the dirty business of finishing a house. Also, we know we want our concrete slab to be finished in one pour to avoid the orchestration of getting a concrete truck and team on site multiple times.

Our latest strategy—single-pour slab and a completed box—may not seem like much, but it eliminates most of our previous hurdles. As we both design the core and develop the process of moving and placing it, we are focusing on making sure others can easily replicate our work in the majority of rural contexts. The footing, our most recent detail, is hitting most if not all of our criteria and we continue to examine and refine it. What’s funny is that the final connection is only screws, so we may just be screwin’ er’ down after all.

Section of bathroom core footing

In Other News,

We have been steadily working in various other areas of the project. We are drawing elevation options, both interior and exterior and considering where our porches should be and what they look like. We are also asking ourselves what the human comfort scheme is, which is the heating and cooling of the house, and what passive strategies we could employ.

We have also been in the business of testing the spatial aspects of the cores and taking field trips to Rural Studio projects and places.

This point in the project is exciting. Hopefully, in the next blog, you will see a mock-up and some details that are finally nailed down, pun intended.

How do we build that?

Now that the pods have been given forms, it’s important to figure out how we can make them stand up. To accomplish this, we are comparing three different structural systems to find the best method. We are considering Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), and more conventional stick framing systems.

All of these systems require slightly different assemblies, and we drew many wall sections to begin to understand them.

These forms also require unconventional joints at odd angles, so we did studies of how to join corners, whether with panelized systems such as CLT and SIPs, or stick framing.

By the end of these studies, and with the help of a review from Hank and Julie of KoningEizenberg Architecture, we began to realize that these forms were too complex, and could be simplified without forgetting our experimental requirements. This led us to a form we’re calling the “Rowhouse”. 

We will continue investigating structural systems using the Rowhouse form. We are currently investigating using the SIPs systems, as they offer a high insulating value while integrating structure. Our next steps will be designing the thermal mass panels that will live in these structures.