Saturday, July 31, 2010

Citizen Architect

I recently saw the new movie, "Citizen Architect", a documentary about Samuel Mockbee's Auburn University based Rural Studio. Mockbee makes a powerful case for architecture's ability to make great buildings and places for the very poor and not just the very rich. The free design, labor and materials provided by the studio are certainly the reason free houses for very poor are possible but a closer look reveals many reasons to feel hopeful about ourselves and our work.

First of all, great buildings can be produced using discarded material because the act of architectural design is powerful enough to make a small, cheap building as good as one with all the money in the world. This supports the act of design as one of great importance to ourselves.

Next, in the movie the cerebral architect Peter Eisenman dismisses the poor as ignorant of what can be good for them and then shows incredibly bad stale, non-tactile, cheap looking, inhuman, forced artificially complex, corporate crap architecture as an example of great work. This instantly brings the dichotomy between building for humans and building as mental masturbation in to focus. One is human based and the other is discorporate.

We are shown the young students and sometimes teachers getting giddy about helping the poor and the dark skin/ light skin guilt and condescension may come to mind. However the core idea that our infantile capitalism has somehow blocked our ability to jump in and do great work for everyone including ourselves is apparent. How exactly is it that we cannot manage to create an endless stream of community buildings and homes? Are we afraid of barter or barred from using found materials? Do we just have a lack of talented architects?

I suspect we would have many more wonderful places if there were a Rural Studio in every county.

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