As a mission-driven, educational initiative, the Rural Studio has been able to commit almost a decade of rigorous analysis to the careful development of these affordable housing prototypes, illustrating the important potential of community design to explore ideas and provide services that the private market is unable to support.
In 1968, civil rights leader Whitney M, Young Jr. addressed the National Convention of the American Institute of Architects. Mr. Young was blunt in his criticism, arguing that the profession was irrelevant due to its indifference to the most pressing social issues of the time. In response to this call to action, the community design movement took root.
Building on early initiatives such as the Architects Renewal Committee of Harlem and ideas of advocacy planning, community design drew in not only architects but also planners and others interested in more participatory, democratic design processes. The movement was based on the idea that the built environment has far-reaching impacts and that everyone should be involved in its design, not just those who can afford to pay for professional services.
Over the past five decades, the community design movement has continued to evolve and today is often referred to as “social impact design” or “public interest design.” While the core principles of the movement remain the same, these shifts in terminology are indicative of changes in ideology. A wide range of design initiatives now characterize the field. This interdisciplinary approach stems from the recognition that the complex issues facing communities today call for holistic, collaborative efforts.
The work of the Rural Studio is one example of the possibility of community design. Founded in 1993 and located in the Black Belt region of west Alabama, the Rural Studio is part of Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. In 2005, Rural Studio began the 20K house project; over the past decade, students have worked to design and build small houses that can be constructed for a total of $20,000, inclusive of building materials and labor by a local contractor.
To date, Rural Studio has built sixteen versions of the 20K House – with a seventeenth iteration currently underway – and Rural Studio is also working with Landon Bone Baker Architects to ensure prototypes are compliant with building codes and FHA standards as the Studio developes 20K House into a nationwide product line. As a mission-driven, educational initiative, the Rural Studio has been able to commit almost a decade of rigorous analysis to the careful development of these affordable housing prototypes, illustrating the important potential of community design to explore ideas and provide services that the private market is unable to support.
Amy Bullington is a registered architect and 2015 graduate of the Master’s of City & Regional Planning program at UNC-Chapel Hill. As part of her undergraduate work she participated in Auburn University’s Rural Studio, where she teamed with another student to design and build Christine’s House. She has lived in Raleigh since 2006 and recently joined the team at Clearscapes, a full-service design firm located in the Warehouse District. Amy received the AICP Outstanding Student Award upon graduation.
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