Up We Go!

Hey! The gang’s all here, welcome back.

Myers' Home team at a mockup
from left: Riley Boles, Madeline Ray, Robbin Reese, Judith Seaman

A dignified home is not a luxury. For the past 27 years, Rural Studio has been refining an architectural approach to affordability and durability in housing of the rural South. The Myers’ Home team is working to make that home last for generations and changes to fit the family within. This is being pursued through interiorized expansion, capacity for multiple bedroom types, and varying states of material finish.

A cycle of generations through the home

Can a dignified home be built to be serve a client, their children, even grandchildren, through inheritance? Myers’ Home team has been taking a look at how homes expand in rural contexts like Hale County, and there’s quite a tendency to grow. Homes spread to fill the property with additions built as a family is able. The team looked to local precedent like Jim Walter Homes, a regional kit home similar to Sears Roebuck homes, that acted as a shell. The unfinished interior can be designed and changed by the owner, fitting their needs.

Both 2020-2021 5th-Year student project teams are exploring comprehensive solutions to the issues that arise from ad-hoc expansions. Rather than attaching new structure to a starter home, often a kit-type or mobile home, the team wants to know how expansions might be contained in the shell of the one, original structure. Dubbed the shell expansion method, Myers’ Home team is designing a protective home that can change within the boundaries of the original structure to accommodate varying family demographics and needs over generations. One of the most exciting developments for the studio thus far though has been, *drumroll*, the attic truss. That’s right folks, a two-story home. Want more space for the same footprint? Go up!

The attic truss system and resultant second floor space

But how to begin? The four Myer’s Home teammates determined what conditions were imperative to the home’s function. In terms of a flexible generational home, spaces that can host a variety of activity and establish thresholds of social and private space through the home.

To reach the attic a stair was needed, this created a limited framework to operate within. It needed to align with the trusses above to meet building code for enough head height above the landing. Centering the stair gave easiest access to both sides of the attic for the most flexible room solutions and was the most accessible location through changes to the surrounding rooms.

The home has thresholds that shift between social and private space

With these in mind, plans were drawn up, tested and re-tested. Quick mockups of different furniture layouts in the Red Barn determined appropriate sizes of rooms depending on Fair Housing Act (FHA) standards and varying furniture sizes.

Early plan sketches before refining stair placement

The porch has also been a source of great debate. More mockups were constructed to test options seen in past Rural Studio projects as well as the context of the rural South. After getting a feel for the options, the team moved towards Stress Test in November with some decisions to make and plenty to discuss!

The teams’ weeks were interspersed with reviews with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Julie Eizenberg, Marlon Blackwell, and our own Auburn faculty. Through these critiques we came to two leading contenders for the plan and section. Both are post frame homes roughly 900 square feet with a 10/12 pitch roof. Both homes also contained a clear bedroom, and a “room without a name,” one that could begin with or without a dividing wall. It could serve, alongside the attic, as the first step in interiorized expansion for shifting family needs.

Two of the final plan options as 1 or 2 bedroom options following Stress Test, their last stand

The plans made it through Stress Test nearly whole, yahoo! But the review following brought to light holes in the plan and a whole new approach. With Marlon Blackwell, Jake LaBarre, Emily Taylor, and Emily McGlohn, the team came to the conclusion that both options were just too darn prescriptive! For true flexibility there has to be more than one flexible space, the team ought to make the whole house shift-able! Back to the drawing board they go, to find the flex.

The most constraining part of the previous plans were the walls. So how can the prescription be replaced with prediction? Ding ding, optional walls! How else? Group the utilities in a core! Take a look at just how that all works together…

Myers’ Home is fairly small scale, clocking in around 900 square feet inside with a 6 foot porch. The short interior width of 24 feet allows that amazing attic truss to span with no load-bearing interior walls. By moving electrical, plumbing, and mechanical to the bathroom, stair, and exterior walls, the team can treat the interior walls as transient. Imagine the possibilities! The home can be built as a 1:1 model of sorts, exterior and core block. Rooms can be defined by inserting walls after experiencing the “shell” space, as builder or client.

Two 2-bedroom plan options for the latest home iteration

The team’s been defining these optional spaces as “rooms without names,” space that can change purpose and space should the family need it. More free space though is the attic. Able to hold 2 more bedrooms up to FHA standards, it also slings plumbing hookups to the attic space as a vertical extension of the core below.

The attic space being filled and used over time

The 1:1 model method, the protected shell and core, and the house-length porch all amount to something wonderful. With the flexible plan, the home can begin with one, two, the, or no defined bedrooms. Our clients needs two to begin, walls can be placed in whichever of the options work best for their lifestyle. They may want a larger living area to one side of the home. They may prefer the entire bar spanning the porch remain social. They might enjoy both bedrooms catching the sunrise on the east side. This house can accommodate.

An interactive study model with movable walls and furniture.

The team then met with the client, Mr. and Mrs. Myers, and presented an interactive model to show how easily walls can be added shifted. They analyzed the site and began to consider the soil, the trees, and first steps towards getting their hammers swinging and boots in the mud.

Zooming with Joe Farrugia to discuss structural systems

Following these turns of events, the realities of detailing and structure began falling into place. After Thanksgiving the team put the pedal to the metal and jumped into attic truss engineering with Joe Farrugia. With Joe, they are learning the physics and engineering process of a manufactured truss to design their own for production. This involves testing limits of different grades of Southern Pine and various dimensions of lumber. What fun, thanks, Enercalc! They’ve also worked on roof assemblies with Paul Stoller of AtelierTen in Sydney, Australia, and some active systems planning.

Outdoor pinup at the fabrication pavilion with Andrew and Steve

All of these conversations kept on going over the holidays to keep the wheels turning into the New Year. As 2021 tumbled in and work ramped up in Newbern, a review of projects was in order to gauge next steps in design. In retrospect the team synthesized old and new observations of the home and made some exciting new conclusions. Stay tuned for a structural surprise!