Eighteen years ago, Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee left his architecture practice Mockbee Coker in Memphis, Tennessee to teach at Auburn University’s School of Architecture. His fifteen years of practice focused his vision of the role of architects towards virtue. He recognized the need for architecture for all especially those who couldn’t afford it and pushed the architect’s role as leader of social and environmental change. In 1992, through a design-build program with D.K. Ruth, he established the Rural Studio in one of the poorest counties in Alabama to teach students that “everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul." Seven years later, I became one of these students who saw the impact that architecture can make, and the experience changed my world.
Not only did we come face to face with real clients and real needs, we were challenged with great design within a limited budget. Smart sustainable design, use of found or recycled materials, and simplicity of form resulted.
Sambo was an exceptional teacher and a truly genuine person. One of the things I will never forget about him was how he took the time to greet my parents during our quarter end celebration. When they arrived on site, Sambo stopped his conversation with a group of professors and walked over to welcome them. Then he says, “Your daughter is going to be a great architect.” He probably didn’t know how much those words encouraged me from then on. He’ll truly be missed.
Even after his death in 2001, the Rural Studio and his vision still remains strong. Many projects have continued to astound the world, including the architecture community, publishing several projects in well-noted magazines, and other schools of architecture have started charity design-build programs for their students.
Even this past weekend when I visited the final presentations of the Rural Studio students, they continue to make an impact through great design and professionalism. Many local residents observed how the youth of Hale County have been inspired by these students, and, in that regard, the impact of the Rural Studio is endless.
P.O. Box 278
Newbern, AL 36765
A documentary on Sambo and the Rural Studio was also made during my time there. Visit http://www.ruralstudiofilm.com/ to learn more. A new documentary "SnakeBit" is also in post-production and expected to be released next year.
I have a small interview in the film, and those who know me now will see how different I looked: short-short hair and braces.
~Photos by Sophorn McRae unless noted otherwise.