Film Screening of Citizen Architect

Film Screening of “Citizen Architect: Sam Mockbee and the Spirit of Rural Studio”
Architectural Association School of Architecture
24 January 2012


citizen architectDESCRIPTION

The film screening of “Citizen Architect” was put on by Community Cluster,  a new organisation within the AA that strives to act as a forum for “people interested in socially and environmentally responsible design, with an emphasis on small-scale, self-built projects in the UK and abroad… the aim of which is to raise awareness about the role the built environment can play in international development and disaster relief. “

“Citizen Architect” is a documentary about Rural Studio, a hands- on architecture program at Auburn University in Alabama.  Rural Studio was created primarily to teach architectural students how to design small, inexpensive, functional dwellings by building homes in Hale County, Alabama, the poorest county in the United States.

Sam Mockbee, a 5th generation Mississippian, dedicated his life to creating architecture that improved the lives of those living in poverty.  Mockbee believed that architecture makes the world a better place and can greatly improve one’s quality of life.  Mockbee also believed architecture to be a “shelter for the soul.”  In 1991, he abandoned his architectural practice and taught full time at Auburn University until his untimely death from complications of Leukemia in 2001.


This film was very well done.  It had a healthy balance between interviews with the professors, the students, the residents, and other professional architects, including Peter Eisenman, Cameron Sinclair, and Andrew Freear. 

Rural Studio is a reaction to the majority of architecture programs where students are taught to design “god-awful” Dubai-monstrosities for the über wealthy, when architectural students should be learning how to design homes for the 99% of the world who cannot afford multi-million dollar homes.

Second year students in the program spend a year in Hale County, Alabama, building one home for a resident of the county, chosen by the county on a needs basis.  Fifth year students spend their year building a pubic building, such as a church, community centre, animal shelter, or park pavilion.  In order to keep costs down, these structures and made mostly from recycled and reclaimed materials.  One year, the students built a church out of old tires (similar to the method used in Earth Ships) and corrugated metal for $8,000.  The brise soleil on one of the homes was made from old signage.  These buildings, although not perfectly constructed and crafted, are architecturally interesting and are improving the quality of life of the people who live in them.

The architect Peter Eisenman was interviewed and had some interesting comments, most of which contradicted Sam Mockbee’s views.  He believes that “architecture does not solve problems, it creates them” and that people for whom he is designing should not be asked what they want because they are not “educated enough” to know what it is they want.  By the end of the film, I don’t think that Eisenman likes what Mockbee is doing.

Other people around the country are doing similar projects to Rural Studio, such as Hank Louis of Bluff, Utah with his organization Design Build Bluff, who is building homes way out in Bluff, Utah for American Indians on the reservation.  One of these homes provided a 60 year old man with running water who had never had it before in his life.

This film inspired me to seek out this and other like-minded organizations to work on projects that are for the 99%, the ordinary people who need, and deserve, well thought of, properly designed homes.

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