Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to Rural Studio, the undergraduate program of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University – and for good cause. Each year for the past decade, students of the program have been working in rural Alabama, one of the poorest areas in the U.S., designing and building and then redesigning a housing model, with the end goal being that they are affordable to even those living below the poverty line. The title of the project, 20K House, reflects the total US$20,000 price tag of each home, which covers materials and labour, and is an affordable mortgage for someone living on Social Security to carry.
The first 20K House was erected in 2005, and since then, students have built a new house for local residents every year, varying and refining the design with each turn. Previous years’ plans were passed on to the following year’s team in a continuous evolution. In January, after some 17 iterations, Rural Studio built two pilot homes in a small town outside of Atlanta, with plans in place to go mass market.
At a modest 51 square metres, the pilot homes are small but attractive powerhouses that incorporate years of research, feedback from past owners and cues from the vernacular of the region. Based on a Southern shotgun house design with metal gable roofs, they have a cantilevered foundation on joists to raise them off the ground, one to two bedrooms, efficient ventilation systems to keep cooling and heating costs down, nine- to 10-feet ceilings for a spacious feel and a generous front porch so residents have a comfortable place to gather socially.
Throughout the process, the team has been compiling an instruction manual for building the homes, honing it down to simple-to-follow steps that can be used to introduce affordable social housing in other areas, with the goal of also creating jobs within the local construction industries.