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#870 Alabama architecture students design the $20,000 house

Rural Studio's $20,000 house

One of the first dozen $20,000 houses built by Rural Studio; photo from Rural Studio Facebook page

In Hale County, Alabama a unique program has been training students since 1993. Architecture students from Auburn University leave the academic setting to spend time at Rural Studio, learning from rural people. Instead of designing their own dreams, they design the dreams of the community.

The program was started by two Auburn architecture professors, Sambo Mockbee and D.K. Ruth. Both were proponents of socially conscious design. The Rural Studio Web site describes their intent:

They took a group of architecture students to rural West Alabama to give them a hands-on, educational experience, designing and building for an underserved population to put into practice their philosophy that everyone—both rich and poor— deserves good design.

Rural Studio students have turned their creative energies to designing such things as a smoke house, a chapel, a playground, and an animal shelter. They used reclaimed materials, learned to mill lumber and grow food and to reintroduce a rural lifestyle in an area that had become the usual suburban, fast-food culture.

In 2005 they launched a research project to see if they could design a home that could be built for $20,000. The impetus was the low income levels in Hale County, where 30 percent live in poverty and a trailer is the only affordable option for home ownership. The price was set to reflect the highest mortgage someone receiving the median level of Social Security could qualify for. With a budget of $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for labour and profit, they set to work to build well designed, small homes that could provide housing for people with limited means.

The prototypes are now providing comfortable, attractive housing for the first dozen families. The university has launched a fundraising program to acquire funds to build additional houses.

Ultimately, the goal is to make the $20,000 house widely available. With other factors, such as appreciation and land costs, at play, the ideal, that goal is elusive. But with housing a major factor in our quality of life, it is an inspiring dream that gives me hope.

You can follow Rural Studio on their blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter.


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Caryl Anne - July 22, 2014

This sounds like a great opportunity for architecture students! I’m sure it’s a great learning experience! Thanks for sharing!

    Cathryn Wellner - July 22, 2014

    These students will graduate with a broader view of what they can contribute to housing for everyone.

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