Rolling past on Highway 14 just outside of Greensboro, Alabama, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had entered one of the most forward thinking architectural communities of the United States. With over 80 community and private projects built in the last 17 or so years it would certainly seem the case. The Counties of Hale, Perry and Marengo, which have seen the bulk of these projects, are in fact some of the poorest communities in the US today.
The driving force behind these projects is Auburn Universities’ Rural Studio. This highly acclaimed design/build program was set up by two professors of Architecture, the late Samuel Mockbee and Dennis K. Ruth. Their vision, to improve the living conditions of rural Alabama and to give students hands on experience, has gone from strength to strength over the years. The Studio now runs three programs a year, one for second year students, one for fifth year thesis students and an outreach program made up of graduates from other architectural programs anywhere in the world.
In 2005 Rural Studio was approached by Hale County to help them design and build an animal shelter. Legislative requirements had instigated the need for the affectionately titled ‘Dog Pound’ but the real motivator behind this piece of social architecture were four thesis students tasked with getting the project off the ground. Jeff Bazzell, Julieta Collart, Lana Farkas and Connely Farr made up the team of four students.
The shelter makes use of short cut off-the-shelf timber to create a Lamella structure—reminiscent of Japanese architect Shigeru Bans cardboard tube based works. The structure is covered in corrugated aluminium which speaks directly to many of the existing farming structures throughout the county. A radiantly heated concrete floor, on which the floating outer structure rests, keeps the animals warm during the colder months while natural light and ventilation flood in via the open structure to regulate the heat and air quality all year round. The structure also makes use of the change in the sun’s angle throughout the year via plexiglass skylights in the outer shell, providing shade in summer and sunlight in winter. All up the shelter contains 16 kennels and two offices.
Projects run by the Rural studio require a holistic view of the architectural process, asking the team to not only design the shelter but also to determined the legal requirements for the structure, find funding for the project through donations, even help during the construction phase.
We take our hard hats off.
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