These kids have been here for about month…and haven’t stopped sweating since. The 3rd-Year Studio is such a small, diverse group of students who work together in Red Barn and live together at the Morrisette campus. Throughout the semester, they create their own blended community — full of fresh baked pies and domino games — and work hard at becoming better architects while learning about the people and this place that’s their new, borrowed home.
Instead of the paper and pens of syllabus week, the 3rd-years had shovels, gloves, and paint brushes for what is called “neck-down” week. This first week, everybody participated in small jobs around our campus and became intimately familiar with existing Rural Studio projects.
And after neckdowns, the 3rd-years had their first assignment; the Sawhorse Race. The students split up into teams to design, build, and test a pair of sawhorses. They also measured their tool trailer in order to design an organized and efficient system for tool storage.
The students then participated in two lovely days of water coloring and charcoal sketching in the annual workshop taught by Frank Harmon and Dan Wheeler, learning to use drawing as a way of seeing.
This semester the 3rd-years are going to build a home for our neighbor Ophelia! What a privilege and honor! Ophelia currently lives in a site near two previous Rural Studio projects, and this past week the 3rd-years documented her current home and property extensively to try to understand the constraints and opportunities they may face during the project. The presentation team has interviewed Ophelia, getting to personally know the women that the students will design and build for.
The 3rd-years are also participating in Rural Studio’s first quilting elective! Local artist Aaron Head lead an indigo dyeing workshop using locally grown and found indigo, poke weed, and osage to hand dye natural fabric and wool… and themselves. They will use these materials throughout the semester to piece together a quilt that displays beautifully abstracted renderings of Ophelia’s current home.
On Saturday, September 21st, we celebrated the beautiful work of our 5th-year students, Ayomi Akinlawon, Jed Grant, Madeline Gibbs, and Yikuan Peng, and our lovely neighbor Ann at the ribbon cutting ceremony of 20K Anna’s Home. Thank you to all of our supporters and community! Without your support, none of this work would be possible!
20K Ann’s Home has a research and design focus of “aging-in-place.” The team took on the challenge of designing a home for the entire life of its occupant, not simply accepting the narrow understanding of “aging-in-place” that considers life following retirement. This meant providing spaces that are flexible and remain suitable as a family expands and contracts during different phases of life.
In addition to providing a living room that can easily transition into a third bedroom if required (when those teenagers need their own space or the favorite niece comes to stay), the design creates a strong connection between the interior and the porch with double doors. Not only does this approach create accessibility for someone in a walker, wheelchair, or even a hospital bed, it also provides space for families to gather and support one another. The house also prepares for this life cycle with details that are both durable and affordable to maintain.
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.
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.