December 12, 2003

Rural Studio

I first read about Samuel Mockbee several years ago in the New York Times. He was an professor of Architecture at Auburn who was a founding light behind the Rural Studio - a hands-on studio for his students. His students designed and built houses in Hale County, Alabama using low-cost and atypical materials for some of the poorest folk in America. I've been fascinated since the first time I saw one of the houses made of tires.

I recently ordered Andrea Dean Oppenheimer's Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and The Architecture of Decency; it is a lush book, filled with pictures and interviews with architecture students, homeowners, state and county services folks, and architects. These houses are warm and comfortable, interesting and inviting, and a boon to the people who live there. The community centers and churches are monumental in their own way, as inviting as the houses.

Innovation here comes from the design, the materials, and the impact of the architecture on the community.

This work is at once more moving, more interesting, and more important than any of the cold glass and steel exercises in theory intended for the rich patron that currently pass for architectural high watermarks.

Mockbee - who had just received a MacArthur grant - died of Leukemia in 2001, but the studio lives on. They do several buildings a year, educating their students in practical innovation and quality architecture, providing warm and comfortable accomodation to the community, and making a positive difference.

Posted by julia at 02:57 PM