Sam Mockbee – visionary architect and leader

On Monday, August 23rd, a documentary on the work of Sam Mockbee will be showing on PBS. If you aren’t familiar with his work you should be. His architecture was a unique response to a time and place and one of the few southern architects that have successfully integrated vernacular building forms with a disjunctive expression to create and overall poetic response to making place.

Barton House, by Sam Mockbee and Coleman Coker

If that wasn’t enough, what Mockbee is most famous for is the creation of the Rural Studio program at Auburn University. This inspiring program takes the needs of the citizens of Hale County Alabama and presents them as design problems for architecture students. These are then built by the students using donated materials with surprising and amazing results. Over the 17 years of the programs they have built barns, children’s centers, town halls, fire stations and countless houses for the rural poor, extricating residential “architecture” from the lofty realm of the wealthy and privileged to everyday working people.

Mockbee died in 2001 from leukemia and was succeeded at the Rural Studio by Andrew Freear. The program has gone through many changes but continues to do good and valuable work as well as inspire many other similar offshoots across the country. This program and Mockbee’s influence may be the single most important episode in architectural education, if not the entire profession, in the last 100 years. There are other, and older, design/build programs at universities, Yale’s Building Project, being an excellent example. But there are none that I know of that so forthrightly brought excellent design and rural poverty into the same sphere.

The Rural Studio

the documentary link, Citizen Architect

the Sam Mockbee site

(photos from the Rural Studio website and the Samuel Mockbee site)

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