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Raisin’ the Roof

With things picking up in the Studio entering fall semester, convocation, and neckdowns, we were working with a tight deadline for when the boom truck was booked to raise trusses before the chaos started. 

While building the trusses, we did a series of physical and sketch studies to test column composition and location and hardware for the splices. Once the trusses were finished, we moved into column construction focusing on how to make the three plys as tight as possible and create a structural and aesthetically pleasing screw pattern.

Using a template to place screws and lag bolts consistently throughout column.

Moving between the woodshop building columns and site, we began to place and steel feet on the column footings and drill holes for anchor bolts. We located each footing focusing on centering them along truss lines so that the truss can slide into the column. We then set the threaded rod using apoxy and set leveling nuts to ensure the steel plates were all sitting at the same height.

Truss raising day finally came (after weeks of stress dreams and some long days). With the generous help from West Alabama Mechanical and United Rentals for a scissor lift and man lift, we were able to get all of the trusses up in a day! Seeing the structure raised and beginning to understand some of the spatial aspects of the pavilion in real life has been a big boost in the project for us.

The four happy (and relieved!) ladies
Thankful for the BEST clients (we’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it because it’s true) and some incredible community volunteers who believe in this project and love Moundville!
The men “helping” (but really, we couldn’t do it without them!)

Workshop #3 Emily McGlohn

Birmingham, AL native, Emily McGlohn, currently runs the 3rd-Year Studio in Newbern. She has quite a long history with Rural Studio participating as a student in both the 2nd-year and 5th-year studios, and after graduation spent three years as “Clerk of Works.” Before bringing her expertise on building performance and hands-on education back to Newbern, Emily spent several years working in Virginia and teaching at Mississippi State.

The Contemporary Enclosures workshop, taught by Rural Studio 3rd-Year professor Emily McGlohn, primarily focused on learning from past Rural Studio projects by studying them through wall sections. This allowed students to identify the reasons why Rural Studio has gone from the inventive use of simple materials in projects to using common commercial materials while building an understanding of performance, specifically through thermal-, air-, and moisture-barriers, as well as learning about detailed construction. By examining the progression of Rural Studio projects and comparing R-values, students saw the greater attention paid to building performance that has occurred over the years and the variety of building types that have been tested.

It’s important that students confidently design for our subtropical humid climate, to know things such as when to use a vapor barrier versus a vapor retarder. After having looked at so many Rural Studio projects at a surface-level, students had the opportunity to study them in-depth through drawings, archived documents, photos, and in person. The drawings that students produced ended up being more accurate and detailed than the construction documents. Through this process, students gained both a more intimate knowledge of how buildings come together piece by piece and a familiarity with a myriad of different construction types and building materials. It became clear to students that while earlier Studio projects may appear more creative and unique, more recent projects have the ability to be easily maintained by its owners and replicated outside of Rural Studio.

Students gained the tools to design for the mixed-humid climate that they live and work in, making these performance strategies a priority in their designs.

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.

Let’s Fabricate, Y’all!

This week the Horseshoe Hub Courtyard team has been in Birmingham at Turnipseed International working on fabricating the eight-foot screens that will be on the north end of the site. Huge thanks to Jim Turnipseed for his continued generosity and his crew Flo and Luis! They’ve learned so much in a short amount of time.

They’ve cut all of the angles (2″x3″x1/4″) and plates (6’x2″x1/4″), mitered, beveled, perforated, and started to weld the corner of the frames. They began fabricating the shorter screens first to get accustomed to working with the material and tools, and understand what jigs they will need.

Stay tuned!

Workshop #1 Graphics & Documentation with Danny Wicke and Tom Harris

Each September, 5th-year and master’s students participate in roughly four weeks of workshops led by consultants with expertise in subjects like landscape, sketching, structural engineering, building codes & ordnances, geotechnical and environmental engineering, as well as artists and graphic designers. This process is directed toward students gaining familiarity with the year’s projects, with consultants exploring important questions related to their field. Students also divide into charette teams to share the newly acquired knowledge amongst each other and thereby get to know one another better. The workshop process culminates with students choosing the project and designing the team they will be working both on and with for the rest of their time in the program.

How do you begin when you have no idea where to start? You just do. For the next few weeks, 5th-year and master’s students will document each workshop. At the completion of the workshops, the students will create a book of their experiences and lessons learned. The Graphics and Documentation workshop, with RS alumnus, Danny Wicke, and architectural photographer, Tom Harris, differs from any other because these lessons inform how the students work over the entirety of their book-making process. It sets the stage for how the next seven workshops will go as they create a framework for the entire process. Over the course of three days, Danny and Tom taught them about documentation, communication, presentation, and relation(ships). The students began the process of creating a book and working as a team.

The goals of the workshop were to emphasize the importance of documentation, discuss strategies for documenting work successfully, develop a structure to document upcoming workshops, produce a book that documents the workshop series, and build upon previous versions of the book.

Creating a book is more than generating words on a page. A good book tells a story. This workshop provided the basic framework of storytelling and how crafting a narrative with mindful design and documentation can make or break a book’s success. Book design and documentation act in unison, representing the narrative in a captivating way. When deciding how to design and layout a book, many decisions will overlap, making it crucial to have a general direction and overview of the book’s content from beginning to end. Some more technical design considerations include setting a baseline or regular grid layout, typography and font hierarchy, page margins, column count, paper medium, furniture, gutter space, book cover, and size.

Documentation should be mindful and not an afterthought to fill pages. The objective is to go beyond “just capturing” a moment by introducing an artistic voice that is represented through multiple mediums. Successful documentation is interactive and should captivate the audience. This workshop stressed the importance of elevating mediums (i.e. photography, montages, graphics, drawings, etc.) to intrigues the reader and further convey the story instead of acting to fill dead space. It is important to have a regimented game plan to record moments before they happen. This can be through the lens of a skilled photographer who is always considering light, angles, and exposure, or it is direction given to all team members to snap an individual moment that can later be used for a montage.

As the first workshop, the goal is to communicate direction prior to successive workshops in order to fully capture their significance and maintain cohesion between text and imagery.

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.