Designing on the edge

Photos by Dr. Laura Jana

Last month ten early childhood policy and thought leaders converged on the rural west Alabama town of Newbern in Hale County to engage with the work of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, the design-build program of Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. Rural Studio gives architecture students a hands-on educational experience while assisting an underserved population in West Alabama’s Black Belt region.

20K House Model

Capita and Rural Studio aim to develop a prototype of a housing product for in-home child care providers in rural West Alabama. Built upon the success of the 20K House product line and the recent development of the Income House, the Child Care Home project will develop a prototype of a beautiful, efficient, durable, and affordable home specifically designed to meet the needs of family child care providers living and working in the rural South.

Playground slide at Lions Park | Greensboro, Alabama

High-quality, affordable child care is in short supply for working parents and families. At the same time, in-home child care providers face significant challenges both in maintaining high-quality environments for young children and supporting thriving businesses. While significant efforts are being made to address these challenges with public policy, by innovations in financing, and through supporting in-home providers to raise the quality of the care they provide; we believe that the architecture and design fields can contribute new thinking to solving the problems of child care deserts and supporting the quality of in-home care.

Looktrip participants with Auburn professors Xavier Vendrell and Emily McGlohn

Our key takeaway from the time with Rural Studio last month was this: the process of working in collaboration with architects and students in a research, land-grant university seeking to achieve positive social impact is as important as any product that may be delivered, because those lessons will quickly scalable and impactful across the child care field.

Never before — to our knowledge — have early childhood stakeholders engaged in an extended dialogue with the methods and frameworks of architecture and design to address the quality of child care facilities. The research methods and design processes (which extend to housing finance and associated economic and social policy areas) have much to teach us about designing and building child care facilities for function, beauty, and affordability. While we are a long-way off from the delivery of a housing product specifically designed for in-home child care providers, it is increasingly clear that Rural Studio’s rigorous research process will yield useful insights to the child care field along the way of housing product development. In this way, we aim to expand the tools — particularly the research tools— in the early childhood research repertoire to drive better outcomes by fostering new knowledge and innovation previously siloed from us.

Newbern Library

Among Capita’s roles is curation — creating space to span gaps and build bridges across disciplines, sectors, and ways of knowing — by creating temporary communities of passionate and thoughtful people representing different points-of-view and diverse expertise. Last month’s trip to Alabama — which provided an extended opportunity to dialogue between early childhood and architecture while allowing participants to disconnect from their day-to-day— is a prime example of the why curation is valuable to continuing to build the knowledge necessary to cultivate the future for children and families.

Auburn Rural Studio | Newbern Mercantile | Newbern Town Hall

Our thanks to the Rural Studio team for allowing us to invade their pleasant corner of the world recently, and for showing us the warm and gracious hospitality for which they are justifiably famous. Thanks are also due to Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician, tireless advocate for children, and amateur photographer, for her photographs.

Perry Lakes Park | Marion, Alabama