prefab

Here Comes the Leftovers

Students walk across the street
DOO-DOO-DOO-DOO

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
WAR DAMN EAGLE!

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.

Survey Says

After a restful winter break, the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team—in charge of designing and building an emergency shelter for a nonprofit organization—is back and ready to work! To kick off the new semester, we took a trip to Uniontown, AL, to survey and document everything on our site. This information will help us to create more accurate drawings and make better informed decisions about how the units will relate to the site and its surrounding context.

hailey holding story pole on site

Once the site was surveyed, we had the chance to begin exploring how the prefabricated machine modules will be delivered and placed on site. We explored different foundation types, methods of transportation—such as dragging vs. craning the modules—and extents of site preparation. To help us with this process, guest reviewer John Forney of John Forney Architecture & Planning in Birmingham, AL, paid us a visit. His expertise in turning projects inside out forced us to reflect on our previous decisions, redefine what modulation means for this project, and broaden our views on what methods of transportation are available. 

meeting with reviewer

Currently, our plan is to prefabricate two core modules that will contain the bathing and cooking spaces—aka “The Machine”—underneath the fabrication pavilion, load them onto a truck. The truck will drive them to the site, back into a pre-existing pier foundation, and lower the modules to the foundation (this final step is still a little fuzzy, but we’re getting there).  

Now, we are working on detailing this process out and are starting to think about how we’re going to build the stick frame unit on site, but you’ll have to wait until next time for that! 

Until then: 

The survey has spoken to the conditions of the site, 

Of which the results inspired a way to transport the modules upright. 

Now, how will they provide structure and bring light into the cubes? 

In the future I’m seeing… it may be trusses and solar tubes! 

The Plugin House

Wondering why there is a little house sitting under the fabrication pavilion at Morrisette House?

It all goes back to the Loeb Fellowship two years ago when our fearless leader, Andrew Freear, met another Loeb fellow, James Shen, from People’s Architecture Office (PAO). James and his team at PAO have developed the Plugin House, “an easily assembled house made from prefabricated parts. It is a design proposition–suggesting new building technology that considers financial, social, and environmental concerns.” Learn more about the Plugin House here.

So why is the Plugin House is in Newbern, AL? The idea is for PAO to join Rural Studio in exploring ways of reducing housing cost through design innovation. During “neckdown” week, Rural Studio students assembled the Plugin House in only five hours! Now living at Morrisette House, it’s a working prototype that allows PAO to experiment with prefabricated technologies and high speed manual construction. This first exercise is meant to be the beginning of a continuing conversation that will include the dismantling of the Plugin House to be reassembled as an improved version in a different location at the Studio early next year. Before moving to Newbern, this Plugin House was built as a demonstration unit at Harvard University and at Boston City Hall.

Thanks to James and his crew at PAO for this opportunity to learn and work together!

Check out more images of the construction and learn about the project here.