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.
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.
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.