The Rural Studio Farm is all-organic, small-scale, and intensively managed, making use of sustainable agricultural practices. In addition to providing fresh, organic produce for students and staff, the farm has become an integrated part of all the architecture students’ experience coming through Rural Studio.
Bright and early each morning, a group of students works with our farm manager, Eric Ball, in all aspects of crop production, from seed-starting, to transplanting, to harvesting—and finally enjoying the fruits of their labors during shared meals prepared at the Studio. We feel this is important way to better understand the realities of living in a rural place, especially in Alabama’s Black Belt region where the historical and social legacy is etched into the very landscape.
This is the beginning of the second year of food production since the farm has undergone a major reboot, and you can catch all the updates on what is happening right here every week.
The end of the semester was a hustle and last hoorah for the fall semester 3rd-Year team. The students were sentimental (and maybe a little stressed) as they finished projects, and assignments and prepared to showcase their semester in one final review. And even though it felt like it was never going to happen, they got to start building a house!!
When it came time for the pour, excitement filled the air as the concrete truck back into Ophelia’s driveway. One full day of pushing and pulling and shoveling and smoothing with just about all the strength the students had to give. The 3rd-Years then drilled into the concrete footing to place and grout vertical rebar.
When the block layers came, everything went off without a hitch! The 3rd-Years got to watch the masters at work, and even help on occasion. Finally, the students then filled the allotted cells of the CMU wall with concrete and placed anchor bolts for next semester to bolt the sill on the foundation wall. And of course, cleaning up the site all along the way.
Oh, and the quilt, the magnificent quilt. The student’s final block iterations were sewn together, a quilt back was made with extra material from the naturally dyed fabric and a layer of cotton and polyester batting (yes kind of like insulation) was sandwiched between the sewn top and bottom.
The students then basted the sandwich (quick, temporary seams) and made a PVC Pipe frame to hold all the layers together while each student intricately “quilted” area of their own block together to make one cohesive blanket. A border was made and all 13 of the students sat around the Morrisette dining table to whip stitch the edges of the quilt closed, while watching The Grinch and drinking hot chocolate. :,)
The last class for the 3rd-Year’s History elective as a day long trip to Columbus, MS. The students ended like they began, seeing and sketching the southern vernacular with their wise captain, Dick Hudgens. They were then left to their own devises to finish their final watercolors, and they all, miraculously, finished! The pieces illustrated what the 3rd-years had learned about composition, color, fine water coloring techniques, and the influence of classical design on historic Montgomery homes. The works were displayed in the Morrissette House during the annual Soup Roast, as tradition holds.
Soup Roast bookended the fall semester 3rd-Years’ time at Rural Studio. They got to take one last tour around Hale County to see the amazing 5th-years, graduate students, and leftovers projects. Then, the finally of Soup Roast, the 3rd-Year’s presentation!
The students got feedback from their reviewers about their mechanical exhaust ventilation crawl space foundation (yup that’s a mouthful) and how they approached multiple residents moving into the product line homes. The 3rd-Years presented their ¼ bedroom or “nook” design in Joanne’s modified home through a built mock-up out of 2×6’s and pin up boards, so everyone could see and experience what the space will feel like.
Also, the final quilt was revealed! The students explained the premise of the class and had a conversation with the crowd about how this unconventional representation method expands our understanding of a project, the process of design, and cultivated empathy, in this case with Ophelia. The parade of students, architects, parents, teachers and friends then walked to the project site for Ophelia’s 20K too see the physical progress so far and meet Ophelia! The 13 3rd-Years returned to the site the next day to say goodbye and present her with the final quilt (she was surprised and very grateful).
The next day, the students packed up the pods, said goodbye to Chastity the mouse and Cupcake the possum, then drove/ flew across the globe to get home, but left with a lot of love in their hearts for Hale County and each other. The fall students felt the honor of borrowing Rural Studio and Newbern as their home for 3 ½ months. For that, they will be forever thankful. Now Ophelia’s 20K is handed over to the spring semester students!
After a very rainy neckdown week, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team is back and pouring concrete panels.
First, the team had to make molds for 18″ x 18″ panels to test for the Habitable Structure, 12″ x 12″ panels for the Desktop Experiment, and concrete samples for material thermal conductivity testing. They used melamine covered OSB, which is reusable, for the panel formwork and PVC pipe siliconed onto rigid insulation for the sample molds. The samples or “biscuits” are small cylinders of the three different concrete types they are considering; fiber-reinforced, high finish, and pure cement. These samples will be taken to Auburn University’s engineering lab to test their thermal properties. This information will help sharpen scientific experiments!
When the formwork was done, the team was ready to pour their panels and samples. However, due to the extremely low temperatures this week the team got to work in the Plug-in House! Don’t worry though, they taped down tarps and the Plug-in is staying clean. You can read all about the Plug-in House and what it’s doing underneath the Rural Studio Fabrication Pavillion here: http://ruralstudioblogs.org/2019/09/18/the-plugin-house/
The TMBVRP team prepped the panels by taping and oiling them. Vegetable oil helps prevents the concrete from sticking in the mold. Next, the team mixed the concrete with shovels in a wheelbarrow adding small amounts of water at a time. They think, for next pour, they will use a hand mixer attachment for a drill and a bucket to mix the concrete. Part of this process was figuring out a better way to complete this process.
Finally, the pour! The team used trowels and a bladeless reciprocating saw to smooth and vibrate the panels. It is important that concrete is vibrated to remove air trapped within. The panels and samples will stay in their forms for three days until they are cured. Next, the team will test its panel attachment system and work on their Desktop Experiment mock-up.
You will have to check in next week to see how our concrete turned out and maybe you’ll get a sneak peek into the testing at Auburn University’s engineering lab!
This week the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Team got to use the largest skill saw they’ve ever seen and we’ll tell you why!
In the technical workshop Sal last week, the team decided to narrow the number of materials they will test throughout the experimental cycle from four to two. The lucky two will be concrete and softwood! Concrete is often used as a thermal mass material while softwood is not which will make comparing the data collected from the separate experiments all the more interesting. The Optimal Tuning Theory calls for the thermal mass to be externally insulated which allows the thermal mass material to be much thinner than a typical thermal mass. Therefore, the concrete and wood need to be panelized.
The thermal properties of wood act most efficiently as a thermal mass when the cross grain is exposed to the air. This means that panelizing the softwood is more like creating giant cutting boards. To practice this process the team used 8″ x 8″ Cypress timbers and their matching 16″ diameter skill saw leftover from the Newbern Town Hall project. The team learned that 6″ x 6″ timbers would be ideal for their project, that way they can cut the cross-grain pieces in one cut with their 16″ skill saw without having to rip down the timber.
The concrete panels are far more straightforward, build a mold, pour the concrete, let it cure. However, the team has to think about how the panels would be attached to a larger structure. To solve this they cast PVC into the panel which will allow it to be screwed into a structure.
Voila! We have much refining to do of the panel making process, but the first two turned out well. We also have here a rendering of the habitable structural with the separate concrete and wood panel rooms. Our next step is to apply what we learned working with these materials to designing and building our first experiment. Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Team out.