I’m quite a fan of the Rural Studio, Samuel Mockbee’s experimental architecture school. Their work is unusual in two ways. The first is that it’s sustainable, with houses built from local materials, and re-used materials whenever possible. The second is perhaps more radical – while most architects work for very wealthy people, the Rural Studio works for the poor. The studio builds stunning houses on a shoe-string budget, for poor families in rural Alabama and Mississippi.
Today I came across a wealth of information about the Rural Studio on the American Public Media site, including a road trip around the studio’s houses, a downloadable radio documentary, a slideshow, an interactive map, an interview with its current director, and a video tour of one of the homes. If you’re interested in sustainable architecture or design for those who need it the most, it’s something of a treasure trove of a site.
There’s also an article by Mockbee, explaining his rather subversive philosophy. I’ve summarised it a little in his own words below:
“Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place. For those of us who design and build, we must do so with an awareness of a more socially responsive architecture. The practice of architecture not only requires participation in the profession but it also requires civic engagement. As a social art, architecture must be made where it is and out of what exists there. The dilemma for every architect is how to advance our profession and our community with our talents rather than our talents being used to compromise them.
People and place matter. Architecture is a continually developing profession now under the influence of consumer-driven culture… It is not prudent to sit back as architects and rely on the corporate world’s scientists and technology experts to decide which problems to solve. It is in the architect’s own interest to assert his or her values — values that respect, we should hope, the greater good.
The professional challenge, whether one is an architect in the rural American South or elsewhere in the world, is how to avoid being so stunned by the power of modern technology and economic affluence that one does not lose sight of the fact that people and place matter.
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is the most important thing because nothing else matters. In doing so, an architect will act on a foundation of decency which can be built upon. Go above and beyond the call of a ‘smoothly functioning conscience’; help those who aren’t likely to help you in return, and do so even if nobody is watching!”
For more see our previous entries: