Andrew Freear —
An Architecture of Decency

Auburn's Rural Studio in western Alabama draws architectural students into the design and construction of homes and public spaces in some of the poorest counties. They're creating beautiful and economical structures that are not only unique but nurture sustainability of the natural world as of human dignity.

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Guests

is an associate professor of Architecture at Auburn University and director of the Rural Studio.

Pertinent Posts

A group of black belts head to Greensboro, Alabama, to participate in Rural Studio home-building projects.

Selected Readings

The Rural Studio

by Samuel Mockbee
This 1998 essay by Sam Mockbee, the founder of Rural Studio, exhibits exactly why his spirit and ideas live on after his death.

Rural Studio Road Trip Blog

SOF producers spent a week in Alabama talking to students, clients, and teachers about the Rural Studio. They journal their own observations about the work being done, and the issues being raised and addressed.

Maps of Interest

Map of Rural Studio Projects

Rural Studio structures dot the landscape of four counties in Alabama. Get a sense of that space and place. Zoom in and click on the pincushions to see these selected buildings and learn a little bit more about them.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Mason's Bend and the Rural Studio

[audio slideshow, 2:45]
The iconographic structures of Mason's Bend have become synonymous with Sam Mockbee and the Rural Studio. We've put together a feast of images and voices from the people who live and work there.

A Design Critique of a 20K House

[video, 6:12]

The Rural Studio 20K House is in its fourth generation now. All have been single story and aluminum clad. This group of students are changing that, and face the challenges of creating a two-story loft.

Tour of Rural Studio's 32K (aka 20K) Duplex House

[video, 4:16]

The Rural Studio has completed their third generation of the 20K House — budgeting $10,000 in materials and the rest for future profit for a contractor. In a clever twist for a pair of brothers, they've combined the two in the form of a dogtrot. Take a look.

About the Image

A family enjoys the newly constructed ball fields at Lions Park in Greensboro, Alabama.

(photo: Trent Gilliss)

Episode Sponsor

This sustainability feature is supported by the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation.

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6Reflections

Reflections

This story reminded me of the "trash houses" that Dan Phillips builds near Huntsville, Texas. Houston has a tradition of preserving "art houses" built by individual artists, generally for their own use, in a social climate without zoning laws, but Mr. Phillips builds them for low-income people, using unskilled labor and donated materials. His ingenuity is such that the houses are individual and quite beautiful. I first saw one of his slide shows of the various houses during a Bioneers satellite conference at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

This Rural Studio sounds like one of the best examples of a current higher education buzzword, "service learning." It's something that many colleges around the country are talking about. Successful implementation is much less common. Academics often tend to be more interested in solving immediate problems than in building long-term relationships, and my experience is that this focus hamstrings many well-intentioned interventions. "Been there, done that, wrote the paper, what's the next problem?" Is this a personality trait? A function of the continual turnover in student populations?

It's 7 am,l Sunday in New York and NPR clicks on with Speaking of Faith. Today the story is about compassion and architecture. I've been half-listening for several years. But today your story of the tiny enclave in Alabama and the School of Architecture made me bolt awake. I'm a social worker by profession but painting is my way of feeding my soul. Ten years ago I visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Something soared in me and I've been trying to express it on canvas ever since. At 72, I am a work in progress but thank you for making me think more this Sunday about compassionate work. Blessings. Mary Jane Hodge

I am not at all a religious person, particularly as it is manifested in belief of some higher being. I attend church (albeit about once a month) because I appreciate the discussion of topics relating to personal growth or that bring people together for a greater good. SOF topics, such as today's "sustainability" program, fit into my "practice" of religion. Thanks for a great show. P.S. -- I am a graduate of Brown University, which I just learned is Krista's alma mater.

I'm commenting on the Rural Studio story. This was the only public comment link on that page.

I watched some of the videos. Yes, this school is doing great things to build homes for people, and to try to make them beautiful and ecologically sound. But in one of the videos, the narrator says that some feedback from the community was that their buildings, with the aluminum siding, look ugly and temporary. Then she says that their response was to build a two-story "loft", which is another contemporary architectural style not necessarily in harmony with the residents' needs or preferences. In fact it was noted that it would be dangerous for some. Was this an indication of the general attitude? In that case, they need to do more to elicit and listen to the intended beneficiaries and their community.

Your recent broadcast that featured the rural project of Auburn University inspired me to consider my own personal influence as a minister who helps people meet their needs for housing. You have captured a profound place of space for real people who worship God, work, live in families and communities and have limited financial resources. Thank you. You inspired me to be more hands on and attentive to the possibilities of affordable living space. (I have long loved "sacred space" for worship and the architecture involved) A new fan, Rev. Martin Bergstrom

Rural areas and undeveloped areas need special attention and planing in development. but no body wiling to learn.it is great to see that some local talent is coming in face of solution of this problem which is also very good as these local talents know their environment better then us. so they can give a better technique and design to counter this kind of big probe,
Architects in Dublin is very popular in providing good and innovative designs.