If you’re an avid follower of the field of green architecture, then you won’t want to miss a PBS documentary tonight on the life and work of Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee — a great pioneer in affordable green building in the US. Citizen Architect explores his now legendary work through its powerful design sensibility and his ingenious use of reclaimed materials. Stepping away from a lucrative career, he helped found Rural Studio at Auburn University with the intent of training young architects how to push the limits of design and materials to create affordable, beautiful structures for low-income communities. The documentary focuses on the residents of West Alabama, who became the primary clients of Rural Studio. Read on for a look at Samuel Mockbee’s vision and the influence his work has had within the field of architecture.
Rural Studio’s design build program has built over 80 houses and civic projects, mostly in the small town of Mason’s Bend Alabama. The projects are influential for their vivid designs, like an arched roof over an animal shelter or a boys and girls club. A visionary approach towards materials is exemplified by the reuse of car windshields in the Mason’s Bend Community Center, or the welcoming tire walls in the Yanacy Chapel.
The documentary is based on interviews between the film’s creator Sam Wainwright Douglas and Mockbee, who is described as frank and passionate. The film also follows a Rural Studios class as they design a home for Jimmie Lee Matthews, a man with a passion for music and a zeal for life. Using the Rural Studios work as a platform, the film examines the role of architecture in poverty, race, social change and sustainability. “Citizen Architect” airs on PBS Stations tonight at 10pm et/ 9pm ct.
Photos by Timothy Hursley