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Rural Studio Represents U.S. at Two Prestigious International Exhibitions

Rural Studio in Venice Biennale and Milan Triennale

Rural Studio was invited to participate in two prestigious international exhibitions: 
Milan Triennale (2 April to 12 September 2016)
Venice Architecture Biennale (25 May to 27 November 2016)

Milan Triennale is entitled ARCHITECTURE AS ART.
The Milan Triennale is curated by Lotus magazine, who invited fifteen architects and designers from around the world to each design a pavilion in a contemporary art museum in Milan, Italy. The approximate material and labor construction budget was €25,000. Rural Studio was the only academic program invited and is in such extraordinary company as Herzog & de Meuron, Studio Mumbai, and Lacaton & Vassal.

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When asked to design and build an installation for Lotus at the Milan Triennale, we saw an opportunity to work with the following premise that we always keep in mind for Rural Studio projects:

-Construct an installation that has little or no waste; nothing is thrown away.
-Use materials available in close proximity, minimizing transportation.
-Understand the installation as a metaphor for a bigger question: how can we architects and designers instigate a responsible attitude towards the resources that we use every day?

We discovered beautiful cardboard and white paper bales in a recycling plant, which we borrowed for the installation. To our delight, the bales were in Milan! In our imagination, the bales are large pieces of stone quarried to make a “Forum”: a place to sit, think, read, or debate. A ceiling made of printing tests will be added to the recycling process at the end of the exhibit. Fifteen books and inspirational texts, each provided by our fellow exhibitors, can be discovered in the space. At the end, the unharmed bales will be returned into the recycling process. We will leave nothing behind!

Venice Biennale is entitled The Theater of the useFULL

Hanging spring-coil beds, insulation panels stacked as benches, and a handful of projected video stories make up “The Theater of the useFULL,” Rural Studio’s installation at the Venice Biennale, where they are the only U.S. representatives invited to the international exhibition by curator Alejandro Aravena. The materials were selected for their usefulness to two Venetian organizations, to which they’ll be delivered following the exhibition’s six-month run. The installation abides by Rural Studio’s philosophy for exhibitions—throw nothing away once finished—and extends the approach to projects back at their home base of Hale County, Alabama—consider not what can be done, but what should be done.

One of the organizations is Assemblea Sociale per la Casa. In guerrilla fashion, they squat in and renovate vacant social housing that has been neglected by the state. Since 2012 and, ironically, now supported by the local authority, they’ve renovated forty houses that are handed off to families in need. The other organization is Cooperativa Caracol, made up of volunteers who in the cold winter months pick up homeless individuals from the streets of Venice, give them a bed for the night, a shower, and a breakfast at their Center. Each organization provided a list of materials to which Rural studio could allocate its resources from the Biennale, diverting the supplies in the short-term to create the Theater.

Inside, stories of Rural Studio’s battles are told in a handful of short projected videos created by NYC-based filmmakers Claire Dub and Randy Rubin. To the soulful croon of a guitar straight from an Alabamian front porch, and through twenty-three years’ worth of stunning photography by Timothy Hursley, it’s easy to see that Rural Studio’s buildings are beautiful. Yet what is ultimately communicated is that they were created to fill desperate holes in the community.

Hale is one of the poorest counties in the United States. The projects Rural Studio students design and build respond to its needs: a fire station responds to high home insurance rates, a Boys & Girls Club targets after-school crime, and a product line of affordable, well-crafted and locally-sourced homes address the region's reliance on mobile homes that depreciate quickly and profit only an outside economy.

Based in Hale County, Alabama for twenty-three years, Rural Studio asserts that understanding the needs of the community and the appropriate architectural response is only possible by building relationships and learning from within the place. Their practical designs take cues from the architectural vernacular of Alabama such as barns and the Antebellum house, use local materials such as cypress, embrace the cultural importance of elements such as the front porch, and adopt age-old local strategies of natural heating and cooling to offset operating costs for locals, to whom the buildings are given.

The Rural Studio faculty team who designed and built the installation were admittedly less familiar with Venice, and also weary of participating in an event that can prioritize international over local interests. So they turned to locals who could help, and who Rural Studio could, in turn, help fight the battles for Venice.  

For more information, please contact Natalie Butts-Ball at