Rural Studio making strides, enjoying exciting developments through Front Porch Initiative

Published: May 27, 2021
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Auburn University’s Rural Studio and its Front Porch Initiative have made great contributions to several communities in the Southeast thus far in 2021.

By partnering with affordable housing providers throughout the region, the Front Porch Initiative has been able to support the completion of several houses and the groundbreaking for others since February. All totaled, nine homes are or will soon be under construction through the Rural Studio program, which features homes designed by College of Architecture, Design and Construction, or CADC, students enrolled in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or APLA.

These homes are the result of partnerships with housing providers in the Southeast who leverage the applied research and prototype home designs developed through Rural Studio’s ongoing teaching and research with the technical assistance offered by the Front Porch. The initiative leadership includes principal investigator Rusty Smith, associate director of Rural Studio and an APLA faculty member, and co-principal investigators Mackenzie Stagg and Elizabeth Farrell Garcia, assistant research professors.

“In 1993, Rural Studio began by designing and constructing a single home for one family in rural west Alabama,” Smith said. “Acting almost on instinct, we knew then that access to safe and affordable home ownership might be the key to unlocking prosperity in under-resourced communities. Now almost 30 years later, the research is unequivocal: having equitable access to healthy, efficient and durable housing is one of the most powerful social determinants of health. Leveraging this power of home ownership, Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative brings together the best housing products, partnerships, practices and policies necessary to provide opportunity and advance equitable outcome throughout the Southeast and in the communities and families that need it most.”

The Front Porch Initiative is a program of Auburn’s Rural Studio, an off-campus design-build program in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture that has been educating citizen architects in Hale County, Alabama, since 1993. The initiative—whose mission is to promote equitable access to affordable, dignified, energy-efficient, resilient and healthy housing—is supported through Rural Studio’s partnership with Fannie Mae.

Front Porch partner Affordable Housing Resources, or AHR, in Nashville was the first collaborator to break ground and complete a collection of four new homes. With estimated mortgage payments of $900 a month, the new homes align with AHR’s mission is to provide affordable housing to Nashville residents.

The Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity, or CAHFH, broke ground on a pair of Rural Studio-designed homes in Jackson County, Florida, on Feb. 25, with two more in the planning stages. Construction of the homes is bolstered through a new partnership with the Building Construction Technology Program at Chipola College that enables students enrolled in the program to earn class credits in exchange for building the CAHFH homes.

On May 7, the Florida project took a big step forward thanks to CAHFH’s Women Build event, which brought out a group of approximately 50 women from the region. Stagg represented Rural Studio on the special day, which saw builders frame the interior and exterior walls of one home, install hurricane straps to another and air seal the home to increase energy efficiency.

“The work with Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity and Chipola College is an exciting collaboration that unites our shared resources in order to increase equitable housing access, facilitate continued disaster recovery efforts and grow a skilled workforce that is prepared to build back better and mitigate damage from potential future weather events,” Stagg said. “It has been a rewarding experience to see how many pieces of the complex housing system have started to come together.”

Certified Community Housing Development Organization Eastern Eight CDC, or E8CDC, is partnering with Front Porch to build a model home to attract more interest from residents of eastern Tennessee to pursue small-unit offerings in the area. The team broke ground on the house on April 8 with representatives from Rural Studio, Appalachia Service Project—a not-for-profit builder providing home repairs and new construction—and E8CDC, which provides a range of housing services to clients in an eight-county service area.

The Front Porch Initiative currently works with organizations in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina. Auburn’s Rural Studio is based in Newbern, Alabama, and has a 15-year history of developing affordable, high-performance rural homes.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.