Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rural Studio's $20K House

For many years, the architecture students at Auburn University have been exploring planning and Design/ Build issues up close via hands-on experience through work done as part of Rural Studio (RS). Rural Studio examines the many facets of planning, affordablity and the challenges of providing real-world replicatable architectural solutions. As part of its project for 2007, Rural Studio (RS) has completed an interesting housing prototype for Hale County (Alabama). The target cost: $20K (labor and materials). Rural Studio (at Auburn's School of Architecture) was the brainchild of architect/educator Samuel Mockbee & D.K. Ruth. Mockbee passed away a few years ago, but the program is still operational and has produced an interesting student project for 2007: an affordable residence built for about $20K for some of the areas' low income residents.

Very much borne out the southern shot gun vernacular, this structure is all about utility and fulfilling basic [housing] needs. The Katrina Cottages (designed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, $30-100K each) share some of the same (albeit abstract) vernacular as the $20K House in a direct response to the problem of readily erected & affordable housing. After all, the lack of affordable housing is probably the single most under-reported and oft ignored socio-economic problem facing the US -- moreso than even health care or exaggerated threats to our national safety. (The US housing market should undergo further, perhaps even more dramatic corrections in the months head, imo. But I digress..)

The students & faculty have briefly documented the project, posted photos on the process, etc., on a blog devoted to the project. Surf over to Auburn's School of Architecture to read and hear more about the $20K House. Also, Public Radio has done a piece featuring this project entitled , "The Architecture of Decency",
(airing November/Dec.). Visit to hear the broadcast (mp3 format).

I'd like to see the ledger on the cost for this particular project, as the number of workers and the time invested if calculated at fair market (or even minimum wage) seems as though it would have pushed the true cost well beyond $20K --even adjusted for regional cost differences. (Info & photos on the blog suggest that about 40 or so people have contributed their work, money and/or time to the project.)

Perhaps RS will publish a data accounting and a more detailed outline of costs, labor supplied, man hours, challenges, etc. Publishing that data would prove far more useful than keeping it limited to the interested participants and sponsors. I mean, if you are really concerned about affordability, you help others make affordable housing a reality in other communities by sharing data, methods, experiences. Otherwise, you create the proprietary mess that surrounds the human genome industry.