Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Hopeful Legacy of Samuel Mockbee

Of note: NYT article about Samuel Mockbee's legacy in southern rural anti-poverty anarchist architecture. He was the visionary founder of "the Rural Studio, an ever-changing troupe of architecture students who bring their tools, tenacity and talent to impoverished western Alabama. The 13-year-old program, under the auspices of Auburn University, is sometimes called the 'redneck Taliesin.'"

Under Mr. Mockbee, who died in 2001, students identified the poorest of the poor, and built them modest dwellings. Materials were rudimentary - whatever they could beg or borrow - and so the students made their mark with quirky details: a window inserted on a 30-degree angle, a concrete wall studded with soda bottles to let bits of light through. One house has walls made of car tires; another is made of hay bales; yet another of stacks of carpet tiles.

...Many of the Rural Studio buildings recall the work of Frank Gehry (who built a house in the 1980's with angled chain link fence and corrugated metal), with an added layer of down-home informality.

...Newbern [Alabama], a town of about 200, is the studio's headquarters, and probably the last place you would expect to see contemporary architecture. But there, among abandoned farm buildings and modest Greek Revival churches, are half a dozen buildings with the high-tech surfaces and odd angles of architecture's avant garde.

Lately, the studio has turned much of its attention from houses to such public spaces as senior centers and playgrounds. The reason, according to Andrew Freear (who took over from Mr. Mockbee as the Rural Studio's director) is simple: community leaders ask for help. "And how can I say no?" he said.

We need more Samuel Mockbees & Andrew Freears in every aspect of American life.


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