A film by Charles Schutlz called “The Rural Studio” which celebrated the work of MacAuthur Fellow Sam Mockbee was recently shown in the Department of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. It is a film about a philosophy of design and service that should be integrated into more architecture programs.
Architect and professor Sam Mockbee from Auburn University started the Rural Studio in the early 1990’s. Students in the studio are immersed in the rural communities of Alabama working with community members providing architectural services for people who would not normally have access to architects. The importance of architects participating in these communities is that they provide well-built buildings with personality, spirit, and “create something that the owners can take pride in,” according to Sam Mockbee. As for the students, they learn from first hand experience with a client, from design to construction. The students are then able to turn design concept into reality, and learn how to knit the people and the process together. The house is given as a gift; all the client provides is the land. “It is fine that we are being charitable. It’s ok to give and not to take,” Sam commented in the film.
The infusion of community service and architecture is a program that more schools should develop. The skills that are gained from hands on experience such as this one are invaluable to a budding architect. The gain for the community is simply a product of the studio. In the movie, Sam commented that the purpose of the studio was for students to learn design first, and then to serve the community. He seems to have developed a program that works well doing both. I think that this is a brilliant format for design studio, something that gives back to the community while gaining experience, which you will not likely get in practice. This marriage of humanity and ambition is one way in which we can change the practice of architecture in the US to expand the impact of architecture beyond those that have capital.
Check out these links on Sam Mockbee and this project:
Auburn University Architecture Program