“. . . When the students do think about building houses these days, they show off the kind of raw, moonshot zeal that tends to wear away by the time most of us turn 30. They ask big questions like, “Why does anybody have to live in a trailer?”
The Rural Studio of Hale County Alabama has been asking this and other big questions since 1993. A part of the Auburn University School of Architecture, this design build program emphasizes the social responsibility of architects to make good design for everyone – rich and poor. Located in one of the poorest counties in Alabama, students at the Rural Studio take on the design and construction of a variety of projects, from private homes, to churches, boys and girls clubs, and skate parks. Some of the projects change the lives of a single family, others lift up an entire community, and all have lasting impact on the students who participate in their creation.
Early projects of Rural Studio focused on the recycling and repurposing of found and reclaimed materials. Beautiful buildings such as the Glass Chapel, created from car windshields and the Butterfly House with cantilevered lofted ceilings will continue to feed our imagination, but recently the studio has taken a more serious look at the problem of affordable housing. Started in 2006, the 20k House project focuses on producing durable, single family homes that can be reproduced efficiently on a large scale for $20,000. 12 homes have been completed thus far and 8 more are under construction this year.
If you would like to learn more about Rural Studio, Nick Kaye of “The Bitter Southerner” has written a beautiful story on the program, the legacy of Rural Studio founder, Samuel Mockbee, and the cascading effects of his philanthropic efforts beyond his life and beyond the borders of Haley County. Well worth a few minutes of your time.