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Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency

I was looking for books to read on Alabama and was attracted to this book because of its cover. It’s a fancy picture book describing the rural studio, an innovative architecture program at Auburn University where students build housing for rural Alabamans, using discarded materials and fancy pants techniques. Many of these people were previously living in shacks and cabins with no running water or electricity. This book documented the process of getting to know the people in Hale County who the students built housing for. There are showy pictures of the new houses and community centers and a lot of sort of arty-speak of how the architects and builders conceived of their projects in a way that will be amiliar to any graduate of a liberal arts college. Missing from the book, to me, was the voices of the people who had new homes built for them. I was most curious how these fancy houses worked for these rural poor folks. They were clearly designed with the residents in mind, and yet there is a certain flash and flair in these buildings that would seem to have to have some effect on the people who lived in them. I’d like to know what it’s like to live in a brand new house that was built tailored to your particular needs and specifications. This is something that most of us never get to experience in a lifetime and while the students seemed very proud of their ability to do this work, I felt like at least some of the projects lacked a sort of closure that resulted in some of these houses feeling a bit like hanging questions.