Auburn University Rural Studio
Hale County, Alabama
Affordable housing, community design
The 2015 Whitney Young Award honored Auburn University’s Rural Studio—the almost legendary design studio that set the blueprint for today’s socially-conscious architecture.
Founded in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee, FAIA, Rural Studio builds homes and community buildings throughout western Alabama, where nearly 40 percent of citizens subsist below the poverty line. Undergraduate architecture students from Auburn University work within communities to define solutions and fundraise, and then design and build a new project. Living on-site in Hale County, Alabama, students partner directly with area residents to determine how good design can benefit the community.
To date, Rural Studio has built more than 170 projects and trained more than 800 “citizen architects” in the region. The studio also works to develop replicable low-cost housing solutions costing $20,000 or less. The small houses are suited to their context and climate, with a large front porch for passively ventilating and cooling the interior.
In its early years, the Rural Studio became known for ethos of recycling, reusing, and remaking. After the passing of Mockbee in 2001, architect Andrew Freear succeeded him as director, expanding the scope and complexity of studio projects and focusing largely on community-oriented work. The studio has completed museums, park spaces, chapels, and even a fire station—the first new public building in Newbern, Alabama for more than a century. For his work, Mockbee was posthumously awarded the 2004 AIA Gold Medal.