High-quality design and affordability don’t have to be mutually exclusive—just ask the architecture students at Auburn University’s Rural Studio, a “social justice architecture” program that has been designing sustainable and low-cost homes for the rural poor in an initiative called the 20K Project. Now, after a decade of design/build experience, Rural Studio is hoping to take their affordable designs to mass production, starting with its first two dwellings built out-of-state at the bucolic New Urban village of Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia.
While the partnership between Rural Studio and the high-end Serenbe community may seem odd at first glance, the mutually beneficial collaboration provides a valuable field testing opportunity for the 20K Project and gives students their first chance to work with a commercial contractor and take the project through all stages of construction, including zoning and code compliance. In return, Serenbe’s Art Farm has gained two live/work studios that will serve as housing for the community’s artists residency program.
Rural Studio began the 20K Project in 2005 as a research project that aimed to create a mass-market affordable house that could be built for $20,000, a cost considered affordable for potential homeowners living on Social Security who are unable to qualify for commercial credit. To date, students have designed and built 17 low-cost prototypes, which include one-bedroom and two-bedroom models.
The two one-bedroom, one-bath homes installed at Serenbe measure under 550 square feet each. The materials, which were priced at Home Depot and include corrugated metal cladding and timber, cost about $13,000. Elevated on piers, the homes are designed with passive heating and cooling principles to keep utility costs low. The two cottages at Serenbe are beautifully furnished and finished—as expected from two prototypes built to show what the 20K Project can accomplish given a generous partnership.
“Once these field tests have been deemed successful it is the ultimate goal to develop a set of construction documents and specifications complete enough for construction in a climate similar to our local region, and easily adjusted to meet the building requirements of other areas beyond,” says a statement in the press release. Though these student-designed prototype homes at Serenbe are admirable and beautiful, they also have a long way to go. According to ArtsATL, the two cottages and the connecting deck cost $135,000 to build, not to mention the challenges of hiring contractors for low-cost homes and zoning ordinances that regulate building size.