About Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee
You can search skylines and neighborhoods to see the legacy of countless architects. But to get a true sense of the legacy left behind by Samuel Mockbee, you’ll need to search into the hearts and minds of students he taught, the disadvantaged he helped, and the colleagues he influenced.
Samuel Mockbee – “Sambo” to those who knew him – was an architect, educator and artist who dedicated his life to teaching, and to providing sustainable, low-cost homes to those who could not afford them. As the co-founder of the Rural Studio in Alabama, and as a professor at Auburn University, he co-created a program dedicated to building houses, community centers and other structures for the residents of poverty-stricken Hale County, Alabama, while introducing his students to the merits and possibilities of their chosen art form.
“Architecture is a social art,” Mockbee said. “And as a social art, it is our social responsibility to make sure that we are delivering architecture that meets not only functional and creature comforts, but also spiritual comfort.”
“All architects expect and hope that their work will act as a servant in some sense for humanity–to make a better world. This is a search we should always be undertaking,” Mockbee said. “Architects should always be in position to nudge and cajole and inspire.
Mockbee died in 2001 after a three-year battle with leukemia. He was the recipient of numerous architectural and design awards, including the National Building Museum’s first Apgar Award for Excellence (1998), a MacArthur Genius Grant (2001), and a posthumous AIA Gold Medal.
Influenced by upbringing
Born on Dec. 23, 1944, Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee was a fifth-generation Mississippian from Meridian. Growing up during the Civil Rights movement, he was deeply influenced by the treatment of the African-American population in his home state. The killing of three civil rights workers – including James Chaney, who also hailed from Meridian – particularly affected the young Mockbee, according to his closest friends.
After serving two years in the Army following high school, Mockbee enrolled at Auburn University and graduated in 1974 with a degree in architecture. He returned to Mississippi and created a partnership with former classmate Thomas Goodman.
In his work, Mockbee was known for displaying regional flare and utilizing vernacular items. It soon led to the creation of Mockbee Coker Architects.
Mockbee Coker Architects
Over the 13-years of its existence, Samuel Mockbee and Coleman Coker’s architectural firm provided a necessary forum to create entirely unique and exclusively local constructions. The projects Mockbee Coker Architects created simultaneously garnered critical praise and exposed the social and economic contradictions Mockbee initially set out to change.
Mockbee and Coker’s work set the framework of each architect’s approach, using largely recycled materials and expressing modern themes. Nevertheless, Mockbee’s greatest undertaking came with his return to Auburn University and the formation of the Rural Studio.
The Rural Studio
“As an artist or an architect, I have the opportunity to address wrongs and try to correct them,” Mockbee once said.
In 1992, Mockbee was hired as a professor within Auburn University’s School of Architecture. Viewing the opportunity to help less fortunate citizens while teaching architecture students to care for their community, he co-founded the Rural Studio with longtime friend and colleague D.K. Ruth.
To date, Rural Studio has constructed more than 80 homes and civic buildings in Hale County. The structures are often a perfect storm of design-build ingenuity – sustainable, cost-efficient and bold.
December 30th, 2001
Samuel Mockbee was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998, but continued to live an active life throughout his final days, completing some of the more remarkable and lasting Rural Studio constructions between 1998 and 2001. This includes student quarters “Supershed and Baths,” “Butterfly House” and “Akron Boys & Girls Club.”
He passed away December 30th, 2001 from leukemia complications.