newbern

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.

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.