Hale County, Alabama has long battled notoriety – with a poverty rate over 30 percent and a struggling economy, the region’s ills were enough to turn many away.
But Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, an architect and teacher, saw Hale County as an opportunity to help others and to teach eager students valuable lessons about life and how to use the “social art” of architecture for good.
Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio is a documentary film that celebrates Mockbee’s legacy – the Auburn University design-build Rural Studio he co-founded to provide sustainable shelter for those who cannot afford it; the students who populate the Studio with ambition and inspiration; and the lives that are forever changed by these experiences.
Among those lives: Jimmie Lee Matthews (aka, Music Man). Matthews is a Greensboro, AL resident and collector of audio equipment who lived in a house in disrepair and without running water. The students of the 2002-2003 Rural Studio class, based on the guiding principles of Mockbee, designed and built a new house for Matthews, one that matched his lifestyle while elevating his spirit.
The design-build process, along with Matthews’ charismatic personality and the life-affirming effect of the project on the lives of student architects, is captured in Citizen Architect.
The film also discusses the effects of Rural Studio on the global architectural community, contrasting Mockbee’s work to skyscrapers in Dubai, offering another side of the spectrum from acclaimed architect and Yale professor Peter Eisenman, and understanding how the Rural Studio has shaped similar housing assistance programs around the world.
Featuring never-before-seen interviews with Mockbee, who died in 2001 after a battle with leukemia, Citizen Architect reveals a thriving architectural community, shaped by Mockbee’s belief in the power of architecture as a “social art,” and his notion that “everyone deserves shelter for the soul.”
Citizen Architect was made possible with the support of Great Southern Wood Preserving, Incorporated, makers of YellaWood® brand pressure-treated pine.