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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Citizen Architect

Film

In an age of starchitecture with the likes of Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel pumping out sleek, headline-grabbing cultural icons like Justin Bieber singles, little attention is often given to the unsung heroes of the architectural world.

Samuel Wainwright Douglas’ new documentary offering, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio, charts the life and influence of hero-architect Samuel Mockbee and his brainchild Rural Studio—a design/build practice focused on providing better housing and civic structures to some of the poorer rural communities of Alabama.

Rural Studio was founded in 1993 at Auburn University in Alabama as an architectural programme that required students to live with and get to know their ‘clients’ before designing (and constructing) life-changing buildings out of locally available materials, and in the vernacular tradition. Until his death in late 2001, at age of 57, Mockbee created some 25 buildings with the Rural Studio programme from materials as diverse as hay bales, old car tires and automobile windscreens.

In opposition to some of the loftier architectural socialists such as LeCorbusier, who had little regard for existing conditions, Mockbee’s regard for the local cultures and traditions provides a refreshing antidote. Having been brought up in the rural South of the US, Mockbee witnessed the ravages of poverty and segregation firsthand, eventually devoting himself to architecture as a means to promote an idealist approach that emphasises community involvement from those around him.

For fans of architecture, this documentary may not present enough of those stoic camera angles, and high-end sterile interiors more typical of the genre, but Mockbee’s treatment of architecture as a ’messy’ and collaborative art is excellent for a bit of cultural uplift and inspiration.

Screening as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival

July 24 (Film Archive)
July 27 (City Gallery)

Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of Rural Studio
Director: Samuel Wainwright Douglas

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