The architecture of the useful

Rural Studio's design-build vision

“The main purpose of the Rural Studio is to enable each student to step across the threshold of misconceived opinions and to design/build with a ’moral sense’ of service to a community.” [3]

Established in Newbern, Alabama (USA) in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee - an architect with a keen interest in vernacular architecture - and Dennis “D.K.” Ruth - who at the time was head of the architecture department at Auburn's School of Architecture - Rural Studio acts as an off-campus and “field-learning extension” of the Auburn University’s Architecture programme.

Led by one credo - to develop good designs that everyone can afford to live in by using scavenged or donated materials - the studio is about “knowing, learning from and being part of the local community” [2], as it encourages the students to develop durable, useful and uplifted constructions by giving them the opportunity to team up with locals to turn their architectural ideas into reality.



Immersed in the rural - and poor - territory of Alabama, the students - who live on-site in Newbern and work on their projects for up to “two and a half years after they graduate” [3] - form a strong bond with the inhabitants and “become a part of [the] community” [4].

Thanks to these strong relationships, a large variety of “fresh, imaginative and experimental” buildings [5] were developed over the past 20 years. Ranging from simple houses - such as the 20k house, a locally-built home project launched in 2005 - to community centers - such as churches, parks and firehouses - the actions of the studio are always cost-effective and community-empowering.




As a testimony of the strong importance that locality and social concerns play in its practice, for its participation to the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, Rural Studio produced the installation The Theatre of the USEfull - a provocative manifesto that aimed at highlighting the Biennale’s recurrent failure in offering real and lasting solutions.

Composed by a series of metallic bed structures left unpacked, the ephemeral installation well expressed the studio’s ethos and its “tendency to use materials that are not strictly for construction” but that help “telling a story” [6]. “With the goal of providing long term benefits to the community” [6], each bed base “continued its life” and became a “real” bed at the end of the event by furnishing the Cooperativa Caracol, a non profit social organisation that helps the homeless population of Venice.

As the team stated, “We don’t believe fighting for shelter is radical; it’s basic” [6] - thus underlining the program’s activist engagement in favour of a more socially-conscious architecture.



Sources:
[1] Words by Samuel Mockbee - see here; [2] Why did we build this installation for Venice? video uploaded by Rebiennale, June 6th, 2016; [3] Words by Andrew Freear, Rural Studio’s current director in Rural Studio, video uploaded by Alabama NewsCenter, Oct. 2sd, 2015; [4] Rural Studio: Love Stories, video uploaded by Rural Studio, June 19th, 2015;
[5] Steve Hoffman, former student and instructor in Rural Studio: Love Stories, video uploaded by Rural Studio, June 19th, 2015; [6] Words by Rural Studio in Alessandro Zorzetto, “The Theatre of the USEfull”, Domusweb, 26 oct. 2016;


Images:
1. Samuel Mockbee - founder of Rural Studio - pausing for Timothy Hurley; 2. The locally-built house 20Kv02 known as Frank's Home, 2006; 3. Rose Lee Turner sitting in front of her house built by Rural Studios students in 2009; 4. The Theatre of the Usefull, designed by the Rural Studio, for the Venice Biennale 2016; 5. Inside of the Theatre of the Usefull;

All images courtesy of Auburn University Rural Studio © Timothy Hursley.


Published: 3 Feb. 2017


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