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By the Book

This modern log cabin from architecture students at Auburn University was designed to be completed for $20,000—an admirable solution for the down-at-heel looking to put down roots.

In the United States, design-build programs are gaining ground not only as the way to run an architecture practice but as a method by which to teach the trade as well. Auburn University is a frontrunner of this school of thought. In 1993, the university launched the Auburn University Rural Studio, housed in the School of Architecture. The goal of the design-build program is to pass on professional design wisdom to the next generation of architects while developing strategies and making real efforts to improve the conditions of those living in rural Alabama. Through its $20K House project, launched in 2004, Rural Studio has tasked students with designing and building prototype homes that could be replicated by local builders for $20,000. Why $20K? The project grew from the idea of building housing for low-income individuals who qualify for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 502 Guaranteed Rural Housing Loan, which the $20K House project directors were originally told was available starting at $20,000 though later learned it has no minimum. "What baffled us," says Rural Studio director Andrew Freear, "was that this money was available for people to build themselves a home but when push came to shove, there wasn’t an approved model for that minimum figure; the least expensive approved design required an $85,000 loan—-and that seemed pretty steep to us. The goal of the project is to clarify what one could achieve for $20,000." Photo by Ty Cole

In the 19th century, architectural pattern books brought design (albeit primarily neoclassical and Greek Revival) to the masses. Equipped with a basic skill level and these instruction manuals that came complete with plans and renderings, builders from New York to New Orleans could create facades of Ionic columns and decorative cornices.

Auburn University Rural Studio’s $20K House project is the architectural pattern book’s modern-day counterpart. The project challenges students to design and build homes for $20,000 or less. The goal is that builders will eventually replicate these prototypes for hopeful homeowners who live below the poverty line and thus qualify for a federal rural development loan.

In 2008, students Drew Coshow, Robert Douge, Abigail Grubb, and Steven Ward designed the Pattern Book House. Nestled in a wooded area of Greensboro, Alabama, the house is a log cabin for the 21st century that harks back to the how-to books of yore both in name and with its own building manual, currently in the works.
 

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