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Rural Studio

Rural Studio co-founder Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee

Supported in part by a National Endowment for the Arts’ “Art Works” grant to chronicle Rural Studio, photographer Tim Hursley and filmmaker Dave Anderson set out to portray twenty years of work in the community of Hale County, Ala. What they found was a love story — love of architecture, love of place, love of people — which they captured in their production, “Rural Studio: Love Stories.” This film was made in honor of Hale County: the people and the place. Rural Studio also wishes to thank all the students, parents, colleagues, and supporters who make the work possible.


Rural Studio is an off-campus design-build program of Auburn University. The program, established in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, gives architecture students a more hands-on educational experience while assisting an underserved population in West Alabama’s Black Belt region. In its initial years, Rural Studio became known for establishing an ethos of recycling, reusing, and remaking. In 2001, after Mockbee’s passing, Andrew Freear, now holder of the J. Streeter Wiatt Jr. ’75 Endowed Professorship, succeeded him as director. Since that time, Rural Studio has expanded the scope and complexity of its projects, focusing largely on community-oriented work. It is the multi-year, philanthropic support individual, corporate, and foundation donors have provided Rural Studio to fund student scholarships, program supplies and materials, and faculty travel and resources that have allowed it to expand its outreach to the community during the past decade.

The Rural Studio philosophy suggests that everyone, both rich or poor, deserves the benefit of good design. To fulfill this ethic, Rural Studio has evolved toward more community-oriented projects. Projects have become multi-year, multi-phase efforts traveling across three counties. The students work within the community to define solutions, fundraise, design and, ultimately, build remarkable projects. Rural Studio continually questions what should be built, rather than what can be built, both for the performance and operation of the projects. To date, Rural Studio has built more than 150 projects and educated more than 600 “Citizen Architects.”

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