Smith receives Creative Research and Scholarship Award for research on home affordability
Rusty Smith would be the first one to tell you experience is the greatest teacher. And that’s exactly the model for how Auburn University’s Rural Studio program operates.
“We set up experiences where students can learn the things they need to learn,” said Smith, associate director of Rural Studio and associate professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture in Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction. “That’s really what we do. So to do that, you can’t really take shortcuts. The students have to learn things by experience. So by nature, we have to ask the students to do things that we ourselves don’t know how to do.”
Smith is one of this year’s two recipients of the university’s Faculty Award for Creative Research and Scholarship. The honor acknowledges the research achievements and contributions of faculty who have distinguished themselves through research, scholarly works and creative contributions to their fields.
Although Smith was recognized with the award, he would explain this award also acknowledges the hard work of his students at Rural Studio—which is Auburn’s internationally recognized design-build program for the underserved communities of Alabama’s rural Black Belt region. The program is located in Newbern, Alabama, and gives architecture students hands-on educational experience by partnering with the neighbors in the community to fundraise, define solutions, design and ultimately build remarkable projects.
“It’s important to know that the work done at Rural Studio is the work of students,” said Smith. “It is one of the things that is hard to imagine for many folks when they find that out and see it in action. The students come out and really invest themselves in some of the challenges that our clients, neighbors and community members face in rural America.”
Smith supports his students as they immerse themselves in rural areas while conducting research on home ownership attainability and testing new methods of sustainable homes. Rural Studio has designed and constructed more than 200 projects and educated more than 900 citizen architects.
In previous years, the Rural Studio was known for establishing an ethos of recycling, reusing and remaking. However, the studio’s scope and complexity of its projects to include the design and construction of community-oriented infrastructure, the development of more broadly-attainable small home affordability solutions and a comprehensive approach to addressing insecurity issues relative to income, energy, food, health and education sources has broadened over the past decade.
Its philosophy is that everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good, dignified design. The studio continually questions what should be built, rather than what can be built. Smith applies this philosophy by creating experiences for students to address specific community needs and people needs.
Smith’s creative approach to teaching through experiences provides students the opportunity to invest themselves in the immediate needs and deeply complex challenges of rural America.
“The thing that becomes most memorable in that interaction with students is that they come to faculty members and say ‘how do I do this?’” said Smith. “You look at them and you say ‘I don’t know.’ They get nervous because it is not what they’re used to a faculty member saying, but then we roll up our sleeves and we figure it out together. Those are the moments that are the most memorable and important to me as a teacher. It’s rolling up our sleeves and learning how to do things together.”Smith is a nationally recognized teacher and scholar who was educated at Auburn University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He recently received the American Institute of Architects' National Teaching Honor Award and the American Institute of Architecture Students' National Teaching Honor Award.
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