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Auburn University

February 24, 2012

Auburn’s Urban Studio, directed by Professor Cheryl Morgan, played a key role in a Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) project to assist Birmingham, Alabama’s Pratt City community with a recovery plan following April’s devastating tornado.  The R/UDAT project was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Communities by Design and was held at the request of Birmingham Mayor William Bell in October of last year.

Morgan served as a key member of the R/UDAT Local Steering Committee, hosted the national R/UDAT team of pro bono design professionals and experts from around the country for charette studio sessions, and engaged students from Auburn and Tuskegee University in the process. The final report and public presentation to the Pratt City community on October 10 was met with great enthusiasm.

In early August 2011, Morgan gathered a team of AU faculty, professional planners, and designers in Cordova, Alabama to study rebuilding opportunities that were hardest hit by the April 27th tornados.  The team included a group from FEMA along with experienced planners, architects, landscape architects and economists who volunteered their time for the workshop.   The charette was open to the public and many citizens participated.

The summary review of the initial work was presented to 65 citizen attendees on August 28, 2011 and focused on evaluating alternatives to capture Cordova's assets and opportunities.  Commenting on the community meetings, Morgan observed that, “The input of the citizens of Cordova was the foundation of the work, and the work accomplished during the August workshop establishes the road map for first steps in rebuilding.”  As a result of the combined volunteer and community planning effort led by Morgan other organizations (such as Alabama Forever, founded by longtime Alabama residents in response to the April 27th, 2011 tornadoes) are becoming interested in assisting the Cordova community.  The Urban Studio and other key team members will be planning regular meetings with Cordova's long term recovery committee and with the community to be sure that they are included in the progress of the work and in the final proposals.

The Urban Studio’s efforts in Cordova are being complemented by other faculty within the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture.  During Fall Semester 2011, Landscape Architecture Professor Jocelyn Zanzot organized a collaborative (landscape architecture and community planning) graduate seminar that worked closely with Professor Cheryl Morgan and the Cordova Long Term Recovery team.  The seminar students focused on post-disaster planning and design for resilience including strategic/resourceful first moves with the idea that the work will seed long-term processes of regeneration. A combined research document was produced with the intention to support future School work in Cordova.  The Master’s of Integrated Design (MID&C) and Construction program at Auburn, under the leadership of Professor’s Josh Emig and Paul Holley, will build on the previous efforts of Morgan and Zanzot by focusing on the design of key civic buildings. Cordova lost almost its entire civic infrastructure due to damage from the tornadoes of April 2011.

The Urban Studio also hosted the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) South Regional Session on February 15 thru 17.  MICD is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and U.S. Conference of Mayors.  The Regional Session in Birmingham was attended by 6 to 8 mayors from around the country and helped teach the value of good city design in context of confronting challenges faced by cities. In the years since MIC&D’s inception in 1986, nearly 900 mayors, governors and members of Congress have been involved in the initiative.

MID&C students have been invited back to Chattanooga by the Urban Design Forum to develop a vision for a Chattanooga Industrial Heritage Center. The proposed center will celebrate Chattanooga’s industrial history, as well as its continued industrial development which balances traditional manufacturing with high-tech startups and a strong ethic of sustainability and community. MID&C students will explore two sites along the proposed north and south extensions to Chattanooga’s River Walk. Industrial Heritage Center projects will combine newly constructed elements with re-use of existing structures.

The $20K House began in 2005 as an ongoing Rural Studio research project to address the need for affordable housing in Hale County, provide an alternative to the mobile home, and accommodate potential homeowners who are unable to qualify for commercial credit.  The $20K House project gets its name from the highest realistic mortgage a person receiving median Social Security checks can maintain.  The objective of the Rural Studio students is to design and build a model home that could be reproduced on a large scale by a contractor and built for $20,000.  Currently, Rural Studio has designed ten versions of the $20K House with costs of approximately $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for contracted labor and profit.

In June 2011, Rural Studio hired Marion McElroy, a 2002 Rural Studio alumna, as the $20K House Product Manager.  Marion is taking steps to move the projects out of the research area and formulating an initial plan to move from $20K Project to $20K Product.

In the early 19th century, the Federal Road was constructed to connect Washington City (DC) to New Orleans through the soon to become State of Alabama. Established first as a postal horse path, the road usurped Creek Indian trails to traverse woodlands, navigate rivers and backwater swamps, and reach remote settlements and trading crossroads. Soon expanded as a military route to defend the United States in the War of 1812, it divided the already compromised Creek Nation and precipitated battle over the land. The road, a conduit for both travel and information, opened the Old Southwest to settlers; it promised wealth and delivered violence. As a place unto itself, it was a site of contested relations and encounters between strangers. Land use transformations that followed the road disturbed multiple ecosystems initiating protracted processes of reconfiguration. The State Legislature has identified the Old Federal Road as a route of significant historic potential that could assist rural economic development.

Beginning in the spring semester of 2011 and continuing through 2012, students and faculty in Auburn University’s Master of Landscape Architecture program have embarked on a 21st century re-exploration of the road in search of viable alternatives to the normative landscape-based tourism that so often conceals Alabama’s rich eco-cultural complexity and post-modern eclectic vernacular. Under the direction of Assistant Professor Jocelyn Zanzot in partnership with artist Dan Neil, the students will work with communities along the Old Federal Road to uncover potentials for place-making that interpret and activate the contemporary landscape of this historic route. A first series of investigations and events have been conducted at Uchee, Burn Corn and Mt Vernon, historic crossroads of significance to the Creek Nation. Results from this first work are forthcoming in Southern Spaces journal, and an on-campus exhibition of Creative Scholarship.

Daniel Bennett, Dean Emeritus of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, was presented the Alabama Architectural Foundations Distinguished Architect Award Feb. 9 at the Alabama Council of The American Institute of Architects Awards Gala at The Country Club of Birmingham.

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