October 7, 2010  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Rural Studio and the $20K House

Main Street, Newbern, Alabama. Image: Timothy Hursley

The Rural Studio, currently one of eleven teams highlighted in MoMA’s exhibition Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement, is an undergraduate program of the School of Architecture at Auburn University. Based in Western Alabama’s Hale County, in a region known as the Black Belt, the Studio focuses on educating students while assisting an underserved population. All projects are designed and built by students and are paid for by donations and grants. It is our hope that the Rural Studio can offer a positive critique of how we teach, procure, and make architecture.

2008-09 Rural Studio students. Image: Rural Studio, Auburn University

The $20K House is an ongoing research project at the Studio that seeks to address the pressing need for decent and affordable housing in Hale County. Nearly 30% of individuals here live in poverty. Most of these people have little to no chance of owning a home, due to a lack of conventional credit for people with this level of income and insufficient knowledge about alternative sources of funding. The challenge is to design a series of small, affordable houses that can then be replicated by local contractors. The project began in 2005, and there have been nine iterations of the house so far.

$20K House VIII (Dave's House) under construction. Image: Rural Studio, Auburn University

Below are ten things we think you should know about the Rural Studio $20K House before going to see Small Scale, Big Change:

  1. Dave’s House is the eighth iteration (with more to come); we hope to have two to three working models to release to contractors and the general public.
  2. The budget breakdown is roughly $12.5K in materials and $7.5K in labor and profit.
  3. To achieve the second point, the house has to be built in three to four weeks with three to four people.
  4. Maximized pier foundations = minimal site preparation = faster build time = less cost.
  5. The house is designed around passive systems for heating and cooling, and its only mechanical system is a wood-burning stove.
  6. Small Moves, Big Change: Going from a typical 8-foot ceiling to a 10-foot ceiling helps with cooling, while also imbuing the 500-square-foot house with presence and nobility.
  7. We believe in the porch.
  8. Dave’s House was designed and built by three students with no previous construction experience.
  9. Dave’s House (as shown) costs $35 a month in utilities to operate year-round.
  10. The site-built house not only provides home ownership but creates jobs.  Two thousand seven hundred households in Hale County qualify for the house; if all were satisfied that would be $55 million in economic revenue for the area.

10.5 Because we are an academic institution we can afford to do this project; it takes eight months to design and three weeks to build.

If you’d like to hear more about the Rural Studio and its $20K House, Andrew Freear will be giving a lecture at Columbia University on Monday, October 11. The event will be held in Wood Auditorium, Avery Hall from 6:30 until 8:30 pm.