The $20,000 Home

Lessons from the rugged frontier of low-cost design where a house comes cheaper than a car

For most people, architects and inexpensive home design go together like gourmet chefs and Hot Pockets--neither is the better for it. Then again, most people have not been to Hale County, Alabama. In this wet western part of the state, architects, students and volunteers have been perfecting the art of deeply discounted domestic design for 20 years.

The Rural Studio, an arm of Auburn University's architecture department, has designed and built many pieces of local infrastructure--churches, libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, even farmers'-market stalls--often using unusual materials, including carpet tiles and hay bales. For eight years, it has also offered visiting...

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