Last week was a busy one out in Newbern. We kicked off the semester with the time-honored tradition of “Neckdown” Week. “Neckdown” is a week where the thinking caps come off and the gloves go on for a week of physical tasks working in the community and on the Rural Studio campus. It’s also a time for current 5th-years to meet the Spring 3rd-year crew.
The week started with some housekeeping around home base where teams worked to replace boards on the Great Hall, tidy up the pods, and help out on the farm.
We also took some time to spruce up past projects like Lions Park, which was started in the early 2000s. The baseball fields at Lions Park have some brand new bleacher seats, the bathrooms are back in working order, and to everyone’s delight, the concession stand opens as well as ever!
Additionally, a small group ventured out to Perry Lakes Park—Rural Studio’s first large-scale, multi-phase landscape project—to do some work on the bathrooms (still the best loo view in Alabama!). The park is open again after a brief hiatus due to storm damage, so go check out the view for yourself!
We rounded out the week with a helping hand over at the Newbern Library, the town’s main social center and source of technological amenities, thus ending a long week of hard, but worthwhile work.
P.S. Next time you speed into Morrisette House’s driveway, send a thank you to our fearless leader, Andrew Freear, who took to tamping the driveway like a champ. (We hear his bones are still rattling as we write this.)
Auburn University 1st-Year architecture students graced Rural Studio with fresh faces and eager spirits. Main campus professors Alyssa Kuhns and Gorham Bird organized a wonderful project for the students which culminated in a drive to Newbern and a day of fabrication at the Morrisette Campus. The experience was a blast for Rural Studio faculty and students. Let’s get into how the 1st-Years studied, designed, and made their, ‘Things for Sitting’.
In Studio Preparation
The 1st-year students began the ‘A Thing for Sitting’ project by studying iconic benches, chairs, and stools. Next, they developed highly crafted 1:5 models and rendered drawings of their assigned iconic ‘thing for sitting’. After this study, in groups, they developed their own ‘thing for sitting’ inspired by what they studied. First, each student individually developed joinery studies connecting planar or linear elements. Those studies were combined to create a group assembly.
The joints and resulting assembly or ‘thing for sitting’ were developed through full-scale cardboard mock-ups, 1:1 drawings, and storyboards to ensure students were working within the material, tool, and process limitations. With approved designs and drawings, they piled into cars for a Saturday caravan to the Rural Studio Morrisette Campus.
Welcome to Newbern
The 1st-Years have arrived! The day started with a thorough introduction to the proper use and safety precautions of basic power tools. Steve Long taught the lesson with demonstrations from the ongoing projects’ tool trailers. That’s right, these 1st-Years took on the task of making beautiful objects, not in the illustrious Rural Studio woodshop. Instead, they worked “on-site” at the Fabrication Pavilion with construction-grade tools. With safety training completed, the 1st-Years began practicing with several faculty members and students to keep watchful eyes and dole out advice.
After a little power tool practice and a big lunch from Chef Catherine, the 1st-Years began making their objects. First, they fabricated their pre-designed joints using 2″ x 4″ Southern Yellow Pine lumber and plywood. They also had access to all the tools the trailers have to offer and their own personal Rural Studio student.
Making a ‘Thing for Sitting’
When the students completed their own joint, it was time to fit it together with the rest of their teams’ pieces to create the full ‘Thing for Sitting’. To make the parts come together as one took adjustments to the individual joints and sometimes the entire design. Thankfully, Faculty members Chelsea Elcott, Steve Long, Emily McGlohn, and even Andrew Freear joined in to right all the wrongs and problem solve. In just 5 hours of intense work, every single 1st-year team created a ‘Thing to Sit’ which stood entirely on its own. Even more impressive, every single object was sit-able! No splintering under pressure here.
The day ended with a gathering of students and fabricated objects on the Great Hall. Each student team spoke about their objects’ inspiration and aspirations. Mostly, they spoke of what they learned. Everything from communicating with team members to how difficult it was to take it from drawing to reality. “Things don’t just fit together as you drew them!” Learning typical design-build lessons early. Overall, everyone gained confidence in using tools and fabrication. Hopefully, some of them caught the Rural Studio bug!
Rural Studio faculty and students were impressed and proud of the 1st-Year students’ final product as well as their journey to it. Check out their lovely ‘Things for Sitting’ above! A big thanks to professors Alyssa Kuhns, Gorham Bird, and David Kennedy for planning the day and bringing the 1st-Years over to Hale County. Come back and visit soon!
The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team have a new design approach which is moving the design along swiftly and with confidence. The team struggled to create cohesive or decisive designs, each member picking small bits of the project such as the cladding or the siting without looking at the total package. While this felt like progress, it was more of going through the motions than collaborative design. Then Andrew Freear threw them a lifeline; draw the whole building(s) in ‘a moment in time’.
The team was to design and choose the best options at that moment for cooling porch arrangement, structural system, site, cladding material, etc. Next, they were to draw and model the whole thing out, details, and all, as a team assuming the chosen parameters. After the team could really evaluate, decide what works and what doesn’t, and design again. Well, Andrew must have had something in his tea that day because the TMBVRP is now on the fast track. In the past two weeks, the developed four design iterations, built two models, and two mock-ups on Morrisette Campus. Let’s take a look at the process and where the design is now!
For the first full design, the team chose the site at the east end of the Supershed. This is a much dryer location than the previous “Two Trees” site. The Test Pods, in this arrangement, act as an extension of the Supershed by mimicking the slope of the roof. By mirroring and offsetting the pods, both rooms have a view from the doorway looking out over Morrisette campus. This offset allows for the access stair to tuck down the side. The walkway between the pods holds them apart and gives a view of the sky from underneath in the Cooling Porch.
Next, the team explored a vertical, ventilated timber siding. This open-joint cladding system shades the SIPs (Structural Insulated Panel) structure from solar heat gain and wraps both chimneys. The structure supporting the Test Pods, while elevating them 10′ off the ground, was a steel frame attached to columns. This steel frame was able to slide underneath both pods between the Downdraft Chimneys. The relatively light steel columns highlight the cantilevered pods. The 1′ thick SIPs’ floors on each pod act as one large beam able to span across the steel structure while distributing the building’s load. All of this allows for an uninterrupted space for the Cooling Porch while making the two pods appear to float.
Reviewing this iteration, the team decided the Cooling Porch head height was entirely too tall for a small gathering space. There is also little interaction with the Downdraft Chimneys in this first scheme. The project collaborators suggested the doors not be above the Downdraft Chimneys to mitigate airflow disturbance. They also pointed out that vertical cladding is less successful for shading than horizontal. With internal and external feedback the team got to work on a new design.
Iteration 2 started with moving the doors from in front of the Downdraft Chimney opening in the pods. This drove the rest of the design because the roof angle is always tied to the chimney locations. The Updraft Chimney, the one on attached to the roof, needs to be on the high side of the sloped roof. This way rain and debris cannot pool around the Updraft Chimney. Also, to distrubute airflow as evenly as possible, the chimneys need to be as far apart as possible. Therefore the Downdraft Chimneys must always correspond to the low side of the roof slope. Switching the roof angle to an “anti-Supershed” slope, allowed for the Downdraft Chimneys to move out from underneath the doors, while keeping the same mirrored, offset pod arrangement.
Whew, the team got the pod arrangement and door to chimney relationship fixed, but they created another problem: structure. The structural steel frame would no longer be able to fit in between the Downdraft Chimneys. So, the team thought to take full advantage of the structural possibilities of the very thick SIPs and attach the columns directly to the underside of the floor. While at first, they thought this would be impossible, their contact at a SIPs manufacturer told them it is done quite often on hunting blinds. “The hunting blind” will go on the long list of nicknames referring to the strange yet recognizable form of the Test Pods. The Tree House, The Periscope, The Wind Catcher….
The cladding, stair, and roof material all took a turn. While the stair and cladding changed direction, the roof material changed from membrane to metal. The roof metal also became the underside material and wrapped corresponding sides of the chimneys. The exterior cladding now acted as a fence around the outer edges of the pods while the metal appeared to wrap underneath. The Cooling Porch height dropped to nine feet, which still seemed a bit high. The team had a good feeling about iteration 2. Mostly, it directed them to give more attention to the Cooling Porch. How does it feel to be in that space? It was also time to see how these Test Pods really looked on Morrisette Campus, not just in model.
First, photomontages, collages of model photos and site photos, were created to get an estimate of just how big these pods look on site. The results are in: the pods are pretty dang big. There was also a slight column movement from the last iteration, but that’s a very boring drawing. These images really got the team thinking they needed more visualization. So it was time to build a mock-up.
This one-day mock-up tested the height of the Cooling Porch space, seating arrangements, and pod siting. The columns are accurately placed and support a frame that represents the underside of the pods. This gives the relative ceiling height of the Cooling Porch The team first built the columns and frames to give a head height of 8′ 6″. They pretty immediately lowered it to 7′ 6″ as it still felt too generous for an intimate space of gathering.
The mock-up helped to establish an undercroft ceiling height but revealed some disfunction between all of the elements in the space. The team needed a more robust mock-up to understand how the retaining walls, seating arrangements, columns, and Downdraft Chimneys interacted. Plus, the team had a really good time building. It was off to Lowe’s for Iteration 4 and Mock-up 2.
Before getting to Mock-Up 2, let’s address lateral load. While the columns can be specified to support the weight of the buildings, what will keep the Test Pods from tipping over in the next high wind storm? For iteration 4, the idea was to tie all the columns together underground in the foundation. That foundation than extruded upward to become the retaining wall and the support for the seating. Seating as a way to gather around the cool-air chimneys, which act as spacial barriers, drove the placement of the walls and columns. The resulting design was translated to Mock-Up 2.
The biggest worry about iteration 4 was the distance between and size of the chimneys. However, sitting in the complete Mock-Up 2 space, the chimneys did not feel too crowded or large. Instead, they felt like the integral feature they are. They divided the space into three but still allowed for continuity, through access, and visibility. The space between the chimneys is more compact and private while the larger spaces at the Cooling Porch entries allow for gathering.
The ground to sky connections really began to stand out in the photomontages of iteration 4. This brought to mind both material pallet and column placement. While the team originally thought the benches in the Cooling Porch might be light, thin material, it became quite clear it should be something heavier. This way the Cooling Porch is clearly an element of the ground, while the pods are an element of the sky. This idea also brings into question whether the columns always hitting the foundation/retaining wall perfect actually makes them stand out more. A regular, orthogonal placement, while still keeping clear of the gathering space, may make the columns somewhat disappear.
The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team is moving on to iteration 5, 6, 7, on and on. They are enjoying their new design process as the idea of building these two floating experiments becomes more real every day. Next up, the team is taking a deep dive into the interior of the pods. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to take it one moment at a time and STAY TUNED!
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.
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!