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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.

Workshop #2: Drawing & Seeing with Frank Harmon and Dan Wheeler

The Drawing and Seeing workshop, by Frank Harmon and Dan Wheeler, taught the importance of drawing in the architectural process. They did not teach an ideal way of drawing, but rather to pay attention to what one looks at and how to use drawing as a way to see. The goal from the workshop was not to become more technical or precise sketchers by drawing what one thinks something ought to look like, but to become better at capturing and communicating the essence and context of the beautiful things and places that surround each of us.

Frank Harmon is a professor at NC State and, for years, has been coming to Newbern to help teach a new generation of architects how to see the world and recognize the common beauty around us through sketching. Before beginning his own firm, Frank Harmon Architect, in Raleigh, North Carolina, he worked in New York and London. Follow his beautiful blog of thoughts and drawings called Native Places here.

Dan Wheeler has been bringing his infectious enthusiasm to Rural Studio since 2001. Since then, he has been teaching students the process of drawing and to appreciate the wonderful differences in how each person draws. Dan co-founded Wheeler Kearns Architects in Chicago and also teaches at UIC School of Architecture.

Going into the workshop, many students considered themselves poor sketchers and were shy about showing their “bad” work to others. This workshop gave students confidence in their abilities to depict their surroundings and visually describe their ideas to others using a variety of mediums. It was a thoroughly enjoyable process of making drawings without focusing so much on making them “perfect.” Nobody sees the world the same, so nobody sketches the same. Throughout the workshop, each student noticed something different in the same thing, be it light, shadow, color, nature, or the context. These differences allowed students to gain valuable insight into how each person sees the world slightly differently.

The intended outcome was to learn how to use hand-drawing as a larger part of the design process, especially while working toward thesis projects at Rural Studio.

25th Anniversary Celebration

Rural Studio celebrated its 25th anniversary last weekend during the annual Pig Roast festivities. With nearly 300 visitors from around the world, the special event tripled the town’s population! The 100-mile journey led visitors to projects from Moundville, Greensboro, Faunsdale, and Newbern.

Fireworks during the Pig Roast

The day began with hot biscuits and coffee as visitors admired the beautiful watercolors on display from Dick Hudgens’ class of 3rd-year students. The tour of projects began with a long drive up to Moundville Archaeological Park to see the design and mockup from the four 5th-year students who are building a new pavilion for the park, which will be tucked in the woods along the edge of the campground near the ancient Native American mounds. Next the caravan led visitors to Greensboro to see the remarkable work from two 5th-year “leftover” teams: the mockup of Project Horseshoe Farm’s new courtyard behind their headquarters on Main Street in the historic Greensboro Hotel and the Horseshoe Homes project, a new home for three women on South Street. Then Rural Studio’s farm manager, Eric Ball, and adjunct professor, Elena Barthel, took visitors on a magical tour of the Rural Studio Farm and Greenhouse. Visitors enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by Chef Cat, which included fresh food from the farm.

After lunch everyone learned about the research from the team of 5th-year students working on the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project. Next the caravan headed south to Faunsdale to see the recently completed 5th-year project, the Faunsdale Community Center, then headed back north towards Newbern for a presentation at 20Kv23 Anna’s Home by one of the current 5th-year teams. The parade to Newbern led visitors back to Chantilly for a walking tour to the 3rd-year project, a home for Mrs. Patrick. The final student project on the tour was 20Kv22, from one of our 5th-year “leftover” teams. The tour ended with a gorgeous display of built chairs by Steve Long’s woodshop class and chair drawings from Elena Barthel’s 5th-year drawing class. Dinner included fried catfish, from Mustang Oil, and BBQ cooked by our 3rd-year students. Accompanying dinner was music from the Alabama Blues Project Advanced Band. Special thanks to Mac Spencer for firing a great shower of Whiffle Dust out of a cannon over the amphitheater.

The evening ceremony began with opening remarks from Newbern’s Mayor, Woody Stokes, followed by the Head of Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, Christian Dagg. A special thanks to our honored guests Jackie Mockbee, Linda Ruth, Kyle Platt, Thelma Brown, Louise Scott, Gwen Melton, Barbara Williams, and Suzanne and Robert McKee. One of the greatest honors of the day was having families of both of Rural Studio’s founders Sambo Mockbee and D.K. Ruth part of the special 25th anniversary day.

The valediction speech was from surprise guests and superstars Billie Tsien and Tod Williams from Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in New York, NY. The night ended with a spectacular display of fireworks and music from Debbie Bonds with Radiator Rick and featuring Little Jimmy Reed that had us dancing into the night.  

We were proud to see the Newbern Library open for the occasion with a book and t-shirt sale to help fundraise for the library. Newbern’s newest business, Sweetbriar Coffee, was a welcomed treat, keeping us fueled with delicious teas and coffee. The Newbern Mercantile stayed busy with visitors and, as usual, helped to support us. Thanks to all of our neighbors and supporters for welcoming everyone.

And finally, thanks to all of the generous Pig Roast sponsors: Alabama Power, JAS Design, Aercon Technologies, Michael Harrow Realty, Johnston-Torbert House, Holmestead Company, Price Drywall, Cedar Ridge Excavating, Citizens Bank, City Furniture, Dozier Hardware, Fuller Supermarket, Hotel & Restaurant Supply, Newbern Mercantile, Peoples Bank of Greensboro, Piggly Wiggly, The Partridge Berry, the Smelley Family, Windham Motor Co., and Wood Fruittcher.

We want to thank the continued support of the college, our community, and our donors; without them none of this would be possible.

It’s Pig Roast Week!

We’re feeling all the feels over here in Newbern this week. It’s Pig Roast week!!! Come out THIS SATURDAY and help us celebrate 25 YEARS IN HALE!!! We’re incredibly proud and truly honored to still be here working with this extraordinary community. Thanks to Sambo Mockbee and D.K. Ruth for having the vision to make this happen and Andrew Freear for continuing to be our champion. Our Rural Studio family is larger and stronger than ever. #WarEagle