Rural Studio builds house in Faunsdale

Published 8:48 pm Monday, May 24, 2010

A group of graduate students working through the Rural Studio of Auburn University is building a house for someone in Faunsdale.

The house is a prototype design for others to follow, and as such, comes at no cost for its future owner, McArthur Couch.

“This is an ongoing research project with the school,” said Clem Blakemore of London, England, an alumna of Oxford University. “They’ve built nine previous houses, and this is the 10th.

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“We are all outreach students, so we’re here from different countries. We’re here for one year.”

The group began designing the house last August and has been building it since the end of April, when they demolished the previous house that was on the site.

“The program is internationally renowned,” said Penny Halberg, a student from Gothenburg, Sweden. “I heard about the program in Sweden, and I applied and decided to come.

“Each year, the Rural Studio gives a house to someone in need. The concept might be similar to Habitat for Humanity, but the project is based on different ideas. It’s seeing what you can get for $20,000 (in materials) and seeing how dignified a home you can build.”

The Rural Studio also benefits from the design of the house.

“Hopefully, this will become a model that can be replicated across the rural South for low-income people,” said Will Holman of Baltimore, Md.

“This is the model, so we’ll give this one away. This is the prototype, so you can’t ethically charge someone for it. Should this work out, we have a set of pretty detailed construction documents. We’re still trying to work on distributing them and getting them out into the world for people to use.”

The Rural Studio built a home last year in Newbern in Hale County.

“They’re having a contractor build a copy of it right now in Greensboro,” Holman said. “That’s sort of the first test of whether these houses are truly replicable on a greater scale.

“I’m interested in low-cost housing, and the Rural Studio is a well-known organization. Also, with the economy the way it is, it’s tough finding work, so why not (work with the Rural Studio)? I figured if I were in school for a year, maybe the recovery would be on its way by now, and that’s not exactly the case!”

Andrew Freear, the director of the Rural Studio in Newbern, is a native of Yorkshire, England, and the Wiatt professor at Auburn’s Rural Studio. He has designed, supervised and built Rural Studio exhibits in Chicago and Cincinnati as well as at Vienna, Austria, and Barcelona, Spain.

“The man who will get this house was recommended to us,” he said. “He had lived here in basically a little block house that had severe weather damage. A number of folks around here said that he was a really terrific guy who needed some help, so I came down and met him.

“The house is the first go at making a model, so he won’t be charged for the house because it is an experiment. What we do is we build one of these and we watch how people live in them, and then, we try to do a better job on the next house. Each time, you hope you get better and you do smarter. Hopefully, we’re going to be doing another one next year for a lady in Faunsdale.

“We’re sort of working with Regions Bank to evolve this as a model that will go regional,” he said. “We’re going step by step, very quietly, because we want it to be well-built with the highest quality materials that we can afford.

“It’s highly insulated, engineered to withstand 100-mile-an-hour winds. Hopefully, it will be here in 150 years’ time and it will gain value, rather than lose value.”

Auburn’s Rural Studio has made an impression in this area in many ways, from the proposed toy factory in Linden to building houses throughout the Black Belt Region. It is a way for rural Alabama to benefit from a state university, and for its students to benefit from the work that they do.