To provide the Town Hall with the gravity and scale of a civic building, the design team created a wall system using 8” x 8” old growth bald cypress timbers (all harvested from the Alabama Delta Region). The heavy timber cypress members comprise the entirety of the building shell – serving as exterior and interior finish, and providing insulation. The roof structure includes 43 trusses sized to provide deep overhangs to protect the walls, while the roof’s open gable ends assist with building ventilation. In the main entry, the timbers form a clear span of 28' over the entry doors and large glass windows - accomplished by gluing and bolting the timbers together tightly, creating a laminated heavy timber beam. To ensure the longevity of the timbers and prevent air infiltration, students spent approximately two months preparing each timber with a routed drip edge and a spline for timber stacking connections that, along with an added foam gasket, will also act as an air barrier for the building.
The cypress timber skin, although providing design economy with a serene and simple beauty, by its very nature provided the students with opportunities for design innovation. For instance, over time the timbers dry and may shrink in size. Shrinking timbers make window, door and roof framework connections challenging, may create issues with interior wall construction, and can threaten an airtight building envelope. As a result, every detail in the project had to be designed to adapt and prevent failure if the cypress timber shrinkage is significant. Floor to ceiling length threaded rods occur at every 4’-0” throughout and ratcheting plates were placed at the top keep the walls tight, even as they shrink. Windows and doors are mounted either fully inside or fully outside of the timber walls, and slotted bolt connections holding the metal frames to the timber walls can accommodate up to 4" of shrinkage. A necessity of construction, the final effect strongly enhances door and window openings in the building.
Professor Rebecca O’Neal Dagg, attending as a representative from Auburn University remarked:
The Newbern Town Hall project is timeless and contemporary, primitive and progressive. The design encompasses the history of
the Primitive Hut, but its detailing is current, precise and of a contemporary architectural lineage. While the new courtyard space for
Newbern speaks to the students’ deep knowledge of the community and of the power of architecture to contribute to bringing people
together, the building itself is beautiful, flexible and thoughtful to the needs of the community and the Rural Studio’s long standing
We are so proud of this team for committing themselves to this endeavor. The 28’ span out of heavy timbers is a testament to the
students’ boldness. The students and faculty have literally raised the Rural Studio bar to a new level.
Project consultants Joe Farruggia, Xavier Vendrell and Dan Wheeler also praised the students’ design and contribution to the community, and Andrew Freear, Director of Rural Studio said:
This team has been an inspiration to us all. Even with the fatigue of 920 days of designing and building the Town Hall - eating, sleeping,
dreaming and living the project - they never stopped asking or searching for the answers to the questions that they posed to
themselves. They took this opportunity to make everything a design decision, and it shows. The Town Hall is beautiful and
extraordinarily rigorous but, above all, it is a mature piece of architecture. Both the Town of Newbern and Rural Studio are very proud of
its new center of democracy.
To learn more about the project, and the Rural Studio, please visit:www.ruralstudio.org