Sunday, July 02, 2017

Rural Studio I

The Rural Studio is an undergraduate program of Auburn University that was founded by Samuel Mockbee (1944–2001) in 1993. Participating architecture students not only design but also build homes that cost no more than 20,000 $ (the 20K Houses) and community buildings like town halls, libraries, sports fields, and the like. The Rural Studio was established in Hale County not only because Samuel Mockbee was familiar with Walker Evans's work there but also because he fell in love with its beautiful landscape. The headquarters are situated in Newbern, a small town 10 miles southeast of Greensboro. Some of the classrooms are located in the well known building photographed by William Christenberry.

Mockbee thought that architecture should not only serve people of wealth who are able to afford to commission an architect for their projects and urban communities. He was convinced that architecture – and architects – should show social and civic engagement and also serve rural communities.

Thus the students not only deal with designing, planning, and construction but also reach out into the communities, attend city council meetings, meet with local organizations, talk with potential clients to find out about their needs and meet with the people of the community.

Another idea is that of sustainability. Some projects implement existing structure, trying to save as much of the existing material as possible. Built in appliances and heating/cooling systems are energy saving and structural measures are used to save as much energy as possible. Private homes are often donated therefore it is important that the residents are able to afford living in them.

In the beginning the houses constructed often looked very special. They used a lot of donated or recycled materials such as car windshields, auto tires, worn down road signs, or even hay bales. In recent years designs seem to be less extraordinary but still special and they clearly stand out from the usual architecture. However, they will refer to traditional styles of construction in the South and/or use materials that are commonly used in this area.

I was able to get a guided tour by one of the Rural Studio's staff along some of the structures that have been built in the past almost 25 years. However, the private homes are often located in remote areas and their inhabitants need to guard their private sphere, therefore there are no tours that include them. However, by driving through the area I have discovered more buildings as there are quite a few.

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