It is probably no surprise that we are big fans of Rural Studio and their community-based regionalist architecture. Samuel ‘Sambo” Mockbee was a real visionary, and outside of being an esteemed professor of architecture at Auburn University and one of the founders of their world-renowned Rural Studio programs, he was just the kind of guy that you would have wanted as a reliable neighbor or soulful teacher. With that in mind, we wanted to pay tribute to one of (new) Rural Studio projects, as the spirit of Mockbee still lives on in the work of Auburn’s architecture students, even after the passing of their beloved mentor and teacher in 2001. The Hale County Animal Shelter, or “Dog Pound” as it is known locally, embodies the best of Rural Studio’s can-do attitude and down home, sustainable appeal.

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Hale County Animal Shelter is located in Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama, the epicenter of Rural Studio’s work and outreach focus. The Project Team consisted of four architecture students: Jeff Bazzell, Julieta Collart, Lana Farkas, and Connely Farr who completed the shelter as part of their 2005-2006 Thesis Project. All were responsible for the design scheme, the acquisition of the required building materials and cash donations (upwards of $100,000 total) to make the project a reality. Even more amazing and inspiring is the fact that the student team members who lent their cooperative efforts to the construction of the shelter had no previous construction experience!

A hypnotic repeating diamond structure called a lamella acts as both roof and wall motif for the shelter. The identical 2 x 8 joists were precut and curved by a jig, and a simple pin connection was used to hold the pieces in place. Overall material costs were reduced drastically by creating a standard, pre-fab “repeat process” over and again. The entire structure hovers over the ground on custom-designed steel legs (crafted from two pieces of welded steel) anchored to concrete strip footings. The concrete floor on which the animal kennels rest is a clean concrete slab that stays warm in the winter months thanks to an incorporated radiant heating system. The open-ended design also allows for a steady flow of air, ventilation, and natural light. Three Plexiglas-banded openings in the aluminum shell also allow light into the interior rooms.

Hale County Animal Shelter is a perfect example of how design need not be exclusively for richer or poorer or human or animal alike. We feel strongly that the barn-raising experience is as valuable and sustainable as the latest innovative green design methods, and even though this project was aided by 3D design tools, its core is very grassroots, locally-savvy, and totally hands-on.

From Rural Studio’s website:

Mockbee once said that “Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor… not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul”. The Rural Studio epitomizes that aspiration. Working from this ideal, students enrolled in the Rural Studio are exposed to the concept of “context based learning” where they actually live in and become a part of the community in which they are working. It is through this process that they learn the critical skills of planning, design, and building in a socially responsible manner. More importantly, Mockbee’s social ethic is imbued in the students by instilling professionalism, volunteerism, individual responsibility, and a commitment to community service. + Rural Studio + NY Times article, “Built to Last, Lasting” (May 12, 2007) + Samuel Mockbee in Architectural Record + Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency on