Alabamian John Forney began his association with Rural Studio when he taught the Outreach Program for two years, beginning in 2002. Since then he has been running a solo-practice in Birmingham. But John returns often to review projects and consult with students, specializing in challenging students’ design assumptions, asking tough questions, and turning projects inside-out.
The seventh 5th-year workshop was called Design and Viability and was taught by John. It focused on the 20K Homes, studying the extensive catalog of student research. Students examined how things had been done in past homes, while also questioning the priorities and goals of future homes. The workshop was designed to get students thinking about rural housing needs in Hale County, how the legacy of the past is still manifest in people’s lives and the needs that housing is therefore able to address. On a broader scale, however, the workshop sharpened student’s critical thinking skills by analyzing their design assumptions and challenged students to design not just for the present but for the future. In that respect, the scope of the workshop was also applicable to a much larger national scale of housing issues across the US.
Much of the workshop was done through discussion, with John offering valuable insights into how the past affected what Hale County has become. Students also visited previous 20K clients to better understand their experiences of living in a 20K Home, how it has impacted their lives, and what challenges still remain. The experience impressed upon students that Rural Studio should be more diligent in keeping up with clients and the valuable lesson that students should not solely rely on the critiques and design opinions of the voices that come from outside the Studio.
The workshop stressed the importance of designing for the place, that architects should consider the place physically, socially, and politically. John summed this up well when he said, “it’s difficult to speak for someone as an architect.”