Newbern, Alabama
Rural Studio, Auburn University
  • Overview

    Rural Studio, founded in 1993, is a satellite school of Auburn University whose mission is to educate the “citizen architect”—to teach architecture students design and building skills along with the ethical and social responsibilities of the profession . To date, Rural Studio has completed about 120 private and public projects. Among these is the $20K House, a research project that aims to address the dearth of affordable housing in Hale County (in western Alabama) and represents a broadening of the school’s scope and potential impact. Forty percent of the region’s nearly 6,500 residents are eligible for federal housing loans, but few can manage loans over twenty thousand dollars; many, often elderly or disabled, live in trailers, whose value and quality depreciate precipitously. In an attempt to ameliorate this situation, every year since 2005 a new group of Rural Studio students has designed a house that can be built for twenty thousand dollars and is a potential model for low-income rural housing. So far nine designs have been drafted (one a year, except in 2007–08, when four were developed in tandem) and built by the students with help from their instructors.

    Informed by their predecessors, the 2008–09 team has come closest to creating a viable prototype. After nearly a year of design development, client presentations, and critiques the house was distilled to the most elemental details, minimizing cost and accelerating construction time. Set on a pier foundation, the six-hundred-square-foot house—the home of Hale County resident David Thornton—is open inside except for a core that neatly encloses the bathroom and separates the bedroom from the rest of the space. The result is an airy, well-ventilated space suited for the extremes of Alabama’s climate. Dave’s House is the first $20K House built by a local contractor in real time, a step toward formalizing a repeatable model and a new paradigm for low-income rural housing.

  • Architect

    Rural Studio is based in Newbern, Alabama, as a design/build workshop of the Architecture School of Auburn University. It was founded in 1993 by architects Samuel Mockbee and D. K. Ruth to educate architecture students in practical work that would have a long-term positive impact in the underserved communities of rural western Alabama. Since it’s founding it has completed more than one hundred projects, from housing and communal facilities to sports fields and community centers. Following the death of Samuel Mockbee in 2001, Rural Studio is lead by Andrew Freear, who graduated from the Architectural Association in London in 1994.

  • Audio
  • Credits
    • Design team: Charity Bulgrien, Ian Cook, Obi Elechi (student team); Daniel Splaingard and Danny Wicke (instructors); Andrew Freear (program director)
    • Consultants: Paul Stoller—Atelier Ten (environmental consultant); Joe Farruggia—GFGR Architects & Engineers (structural engineering consultant); Xavier Vendrell—School of Architecture at University of Illinois at Chicago, Xavier Vendrell Studio (design consultant)
    • Project sponsor: Regions Bank
    • Client: David Thornton