Imagination key link between arts, science

By Staff
A COMMUNITY'S CENTER Four of Mockbee's thesis students constructed the Mason's Bend Community Center in Hale County, Ala., as their final project. Photo by Submitted photo.
By Sharon White/The Meridian Star
Feb. 22, 2001
One man's junk and trash can quickly turn into another man's home with help from students of Meridian native Sambo Mockbee, professor of architecture at Auburn University and co-founder of the Rural Studio in Newbern, Ala.
Rural Studio was founded for Auburn in 1993 to enable students to construct "surprising, functional and beautiful structures" along rural roads in one of Alabama's most remote counties. The program combines the teaching of architecture with public service.
Combining imagination and accessible or unwanted materials such as tires, license plates and bails of cut cardboard and hay Mockbee's students have turned shacks without running water that once housed two adults and dozens of children into homes that not only serve the structure's purpose, but also lifts the residents' hopes and spirits.
Mockbee presented slide after slide to the audience of how the rural Alabamians survived before and after his second-year students finished their renovation.
But, he explained, in order to bring this opportunity into existence, students must first see something that allows a "shift in awareness." The goal of the Auburn Rural Studio, he said, is to enable each student to "step across the threshold of misconceived opinions and to create and allow students to put their educational values to work as citizens of a community."
The Rural Studio seeks solutions to the needs of the community in its own context, "not outside it," he said. "Abstract opinions need to be transformed based on real knowledge and forged by real human contact, personal realization and appreciation for a culture."
Mockbee's talents as a teacher and architect reach far beyond the rural boarders of Alabama, however.
Mockbee was one of 25 people in the country to be recognized by The MacArthur Foundation in 2000. He received a $500,000 unrestricted stipend with this recognition. A partner in the firm of Mockbee-Coker, he has practiced since 1977.
He was elected to the American Institute of Architects' College of Fellows and served as a visiting professor at Harvard University, the University of Virginia, Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Closer to home, Mockbee is credited with the design of two Peavey Electronics structures, the Meridian campus of Mississippi State University
and several buildings on campus at MCC. He is also credited with the redesign of MCC's Meridian Room and the college's Ivy building which was originally designed by Mockbee's father.
Mockbee was brought home to Meridian this week by the Lifetime Quest Center at MCC to update his life's story after recent appearances on The Oprah Show and Ted Koepel's Nightline.
Sharon White is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at