“It becomes necessary to leave the classroom,” Samuel Mockbee once said, “and enter the classroom of the community.”
Mockbee’s teaching method relied on a two-prong approach – the classroom, and the community. In his architecture program at Auburn University, architecture theories of the classroom were put to the test in the field. Students not only designed and drew their visions; they took part in actual construction and interacted with the people whose lives they were affecting. Likewise, their lives were changed by the unique experience: They stayed in communal housing, attended lectures and saw firsthand the benefit of their work.
“We eat meals together,” Mockbee said, “work together, study together and they party together. You become a family.”
The impact of Mockbee’s teaching approach is difficult to measure, though it is recognized throughout the architectural field. While Rural Studio wasn’t the first design-build program established under a university, its success is credited with inspiring countless others to form. In 1992, the year before Rural Studio’s inception, there were roughly eight to ten design-build architecture programs operating in the United States. Today, that number has risen to more than 40.
Further, Auburn has created an outreach program for students of other universities and other disciplines who work on projects of their choosing.
And for every student who has graduated, Mockbee believed the education had a lasting impact.
“All of these students,” he said, “when they are leading the life of an architect, that’s when they’ll start saying, ’Look, I want to do something like back when I was at the Rural Studio. I want to regain that sense of wonder.’ It’s going to ultimately blossom at some point, I do believe.”