Loft House / Ryan Stephenson, Joey Fante, Kait Caldwell, Aimee O’Carroll

“Learn by doing” sounds like something very obvious when it comes to education in most fields, and specially in architecture schools.

I have taught at schools that embrace it in different ways, either by doing a collective small project during the semester, or building a complete project over the development of the final graduate project. This last method was inspired by the work of the good ol’ Rural Studio.

For those of you that don´t know what is, Wikipedia describes it as:

The Rural Studio is a design-build architecture studio run by Auburn University which aims to teach students about the social responsibilities of the profession of architecture while also providing safe, well-constructed and inspirational homes and buildings for poor communities in rural west Alabama, part of the so-called “Black Belt“.

The studio was founded in 1993 by architects Samuel Mockbee and D. K. Ruth. Each year the program builds five or so projects – a house by the second-year students, three thesis projects by groups of 3-5 fifth year students and one or more outreach studio projects. The Rural Studio has built more than 80 houses and civic projects in Hale, Perry and Marengo counties.

And so, it´s not only building for educational purposes, but also to engage future architects with their community, establishing a true link between the needs of the society and the profession. The importance of Rural Studio has been recognized at Into the Open: Positioning Practice, the official US exhibition at the past Venice Biennale.

Future architect Joey Fante shared with us his project for 20K (team: Ryan Stephenson, Joey Fante, Kait Caldwell, Aimee O’Carroll), the Loft House, part of the 2007/2008 thesis class at Rural Studio. The idea is to design a build a house for  $10,000 in materials and $10,000 in proposed labor cost.

Project description after the break:

The 20K project is a continuing project, now in its 6th year. It is a project based on trying to design|build|create alternative forms of housing on a very tight budget. The project was originally conceived on the 502 loan program from the United States Agriculture Program. The loan program was set into action through the works of HERO (Hale Empowerment Revitalization Organization) setting up persons with appropriate loans that they could be approved for, with loans starting at $20,000 for new housing. The concept of the 20K is to design and build a house for $10,000 in materials and $10,000 in proposed labor cost.

At the Rural Studio, the students are the designers and the contractors, acting out all manors of the project. For the 2007/2008 thesis class from Auburn University, the project for all was the $20K. Joining the thesis class for that year was the outreach class, students not from Auburn University, but from all across the globe.

As four teams of four were created- so were four new 20K houses: the pattern book house . the loft house . the roundwood house . the bridge house. Each team took their own unique approach to design and construction on such a tight budget. Within a calendar year four new clients all had new houses- houses they owned with the help of HERO.

- Joey Fante

Cite: Basulto, David. "Loft House / Ryan Stephenson, Joey Fante, Kait Caldwell, Aimee O’Carroll" 17 Jun 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • viniruski

    God bless Samuel Mockbee. RIP.

  • Benjamin

    awful exterior.. it’s all pretty boring really, inside as well.

  • viniruski

    Some of you need to edify yourself and realize architecture isn’t always for the rich and snotty.

    Mockbee ran this studio/freelab, whatever you want to call it, to build for the poor communities of Alabama. They brilliantly used materials found in junk yards etc. such as car windshields for curtain walls and stacked carpet samples for walls, and created commendable community/family projects with a strong social agenda.

  • Fino

    I love the work of the rural studio. I had an opportunity during my freshman year to go down and check out some of the amazing projects. They are bringin’ southern contemporary to the people!

    that is all.

  • Benjamin

    I do apologise.. I commented on this house from just looking at the pictures.. after reading about how they build these buildings and what for, I understand there sole goal would not be to just please aesthetically. Looks like they do a good job.

  • Joshua

    In recent years they have taken a twist and begin to use some cheap but new materials, still with sustainability and social agendas. Check out what they can do when the control the material selection:

  • rising star

    no nurbs, no glory.

  • George

    Good point Joshua – they should be posting that project as well – its quite nice…

  • vic

    Corbusier, I’d like you not to put this name as your alias, it’s a quite snooty.

    Benjamin said something at first that you can don’t agree with. Anyway, he rectified. To rectify is not a quality of a good architect or a bad one, but a quality of someone that knows he was mistaken. It’s wise to rectify. Try not to take the part of the one who says who has to do what.

    This house is far from the place I imagine myself living in, but I think we should try to open our minds and do architecture for everyone on Earth, not just for the ones who can afford it.

  • Syl

    Benjamin’s comment highlights in my opinion a symptom reminiscent on this website and in architecture generally, wich is superficiality.

    Lots of submitted projects or either bashed or complimented, solely based on appearence, appealingness, trendiness or anti-trendiness, or whatever makes an easy and quick judgment possible.

    I try to never forget, especially if I don’t like something, that any project requires a great amount of work and deserve at least some respect to this regard. I am still dealing with this duality and guess will always do.

    I’ll think twice about it if I ever get to submit something I am proud of on this website, exposing my heart and soul to the judgement of others. Some are able to take it, others not.

  • vic

    I totally agree with you Syl. But I still think that noone can say who fits or unfits for nothing. Besides, Benjamin has rectified.

  • Shooting Star

    No Nurbs? I wonder who this could be? Nice work Joey and company.

  • Benjamin

    Everything in life, let along architecture needs to be taken into context. If this loft house was built in a rich suburb in California or something it would be ripped off and trashed, but the fact that it is A. done by student architects and B. built for communities that are not so well-off, then it is fair to say this is very well done project. It has nothing to do with superficiality.

  • Syl

    Benjamin, you are right about the context.

    My point was about how fast can people judge things and comment about it, and take another call afterward without going any further.

    This is why you re-commented after your first reply, because you took time to read the text, observe all the pics+drawings, appreciate the context to, in the end, make a comment that is more relevant.

  • mary

    Four students designed & constructed this house, which is now a home, in one year with $10,000. Pictures don’t do the Loft House justice. What they lacked in funds, they made up for in detail. Must see this project & all of Rural Studio to realize the beauty of it. Sambo Mockbee is surely smiling down.

  • Thomas

    A “loft house”? The loft is 1, one(!) bedroom which isnt really a bedroom. The “stair” is a steep ladder which would probably kill you within a short time of living there. Why the double height space when it clearly does not add any form of quality to the house at all and it steels usable floor area? This project sucks and should never have been buildt!

  • Thomas

    And I dont care who designed it or who built it…

  • retard

    it doesnt have 1, one(!) bedroom. it has a LOFT, hence the name, the loft house.

    the rest of your comments dont even deserve a response

  • Chiaro Scuro

    Auburn Student here. The loft house was one of 4 20k houses for the 07-08 year. Check out the others, they are all pretty kick-ass.

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  • D Thomas

    Love it. Funny how it upsets architectural snobs.

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  • Jason

    I really like the loft home design.Being on a limited budget and wanting to build a loft house of my own, I’d highly consider this model, with solar panels and capacitor banks with dc to ac power inverters to power the home off the grid. My budget will be 25,000.