As Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) celebrates the 30th anniversary of Rural Studio this year, faculty and students are reflecting on accomplishments and looking ahead to the next 30 years.
Since its inception, Rural Studio students and faculty have built more than 220 homes, parks and community buildings in West Alabama. Through a community-engaged design process, the program has sought to educate future architects while addressing complex challenges in rural communities.
Rural Studio is asking the Auburn community to help ensure this important work continues and has launched a campaign to establish 30 named endowments for donors or donor groups, each with a pledge of $30,000 over the next five years.
In 1993, architecture faculty members Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth cofounded Rural Studio, a design-build architectural education program in Hale County, Alabama. What could have been a one-off class project, instead grew into a strong academic program based on community partnership. Led by Andrew Freear and Rusty Smith, Rural Studio has grown to have a lasting state, national and international impact.
Rural Studio Director and Wiatt Professor Andrew Freear works with students to construct the first new public building in 110 years for the town of Newbern. He lives in the West Alabama community where he administers the program and supervises design-build projects. (Photo by Tim Hursley. Top image by Keith Isaacs.)
“Rural Studio’s work reflects place and people through the design process, material choices and priorities,” said Freear, director and Wiatt Professor in CADC’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. “We believe that everyone should have a beautiful and resilient place to live, and that good design can help solve problems. These values will follow our graduates as they go into practice.”
Auburn undergraduate architecture students have an opportunity to study at Rural Studio in the third and fifth year of the professional program. Students work directly with community stakeholders in the design process and work with faculty and staff to construct the project. Built projects have included the Newbern Library, Greensboro Boys & Girls Club, Lions Park projects, Hale County Animal Shelter, Akron Senior Center, Rural Heritage Center and dozens of innovative homes that aim to be beautiful, affordable, durable and efficient.
Rural Studio and its projects have been featured in more than 800 publications and recognized with more than 30 awards from institutions such as Cooper Hewitt, the American Institute of Architects, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Academy of Design. The work has also been featured in exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, Venice Architecture Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Rural Studio has focused some projects on building with locally available, renewable materials such as timber. One of these projects was building a firehouse in Newbern. The structure houses three fire trucks and satisfies the town’s need for a place to house community gatherings. (Photo by Tim Hursley)
In 2017, Rural Studio established the Front Porch Initiative, which works to bring high-performance, affordable homes to communities across the Southeast. The Front Porch Initiative is currently partnering with 15 affordable housing providers across seven states to adapt designs to community needs and develop sustainable development plans in high-need and disaster-affected communities.
Through those partnerships, the Front Porch Initiative brings the lessons learned at Rural Studio to communities in the region that are facing similar challenges, expanding reach and providing a practical application of design research across diverse contexts.
“The work at Rural Studio relates directly to Auburn’s mission to provide transformational student experiences through research and creative work to improve the quality of life in the state and region,” said Karen Rogers, CADC’s interim dean. “This signature study-away, design-build program equips students with hands-on practical experience and the opportunity to use their design skills to make beautiful buildings that contribute to a sense of identity and pride in the community. We are excited to celebrate this milestone anniversary and look ahead to how this work can continue and grow.”