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Rural Studio Challenges Students to Use Land Creatively with the Rural Studio Farm

Auburn University’s Rural Studio  Third-Year Design Studio has turned its focus inward to study the Studio’s consumption of food, energy and materials. The multi-phase, multi-year project, known as the Rural Studio Farm, is based on the educational purpose of instigating a new style of life within Rural Studio and the local community. The project challenges the Rural Studio students to use the land creatively as a precious resource; a lesson that can be applied far outside the grounds of the Studio itself. The ultimate goal of the Rural Studio Farm is to understand the architectural, economic, social, cultural, and environmental implications of living within the means of the land. Currently, the Studio is investigating the consumption of food by exploring organic farming techniques and experimenting with appropriate methods for growing, cooking and eating healthy and nutritious foods.

The first phase of the Rural Studio Farm, which spanned the 2009-2010 school year, focused on the design and construction of a commercial kitchen for the Studio based on the desire to ”think, act, and eat locally.” The new kitchen gave the Studio the opportunity to cook food that was grown and harvested on-site. Since its completion, the commercial kitchen has been used to produce fresh meals for Rural Studio staff and students. This kick-started the Rural Studio Farm’s long-term plan of food self-efficiency.

Phase 2 of the Rural Studio Farm, which began in the 2010-2011 school year and continues to the present, consists of the design and construction of a solar greenhouse. The structure of the greenhouse includes a northern thermal mass wall, built of recycled fifty-five gallon barrels filled with water, which will keep the greenhouse warm at night. A steel and glass roof on the southern side will work as a solar collector during daylight hours. The solar greenhouse will help extend the Studio’s food production through the winter months and will function as a tool to demonstrate architectural solutions to local agricultural needs. Construction on the solar greenhouse continues into the current school year.

Along with the commercial kitchen and solar greenhouse, Rural Studio’s  Third-Year students have designed several systems for improving the studio’s efficiency. Last year, the students implemented a recycling system to divert the Studio’s recyclable waste from the landfill. The students also have been working on a master plan for growing food on the Rural Studio campus and have worked to extend the Studio’s garden.

In the current school year, the Third-Year Design Studio is working on a plan for irrigating the Rural Studio garden. The plan consists of on-site water collection and storage in an elevated water tower. The students also will be furthering the construction of the solar greenhouse. The projects of the Rural Studio Farm not only focus on the creation of solutions to architectural problems but also address larger ideas of sustainability and regionalism. They are lessons that the students can carry with them far beyond their semester at Rural Studio.