Samuel and Oprah
How it Began
Samuel Mockbee, a Professor of Architecture at Auburn University, has his roots and his heart in the Deep South. An architect with a social conscience, Samuel has created a program to train a new generation of architects to build relationships as well as unforgettable homes for the rural poor.

One day when Samuel was out on an old road, he came upon civil rights worker James Chaney's grave. James Chaney was one of three civil rights workers killed in 1964 outside of Samuel's hometown, Meridian, Mississippi. Samuel was inspired by Chaney's passionate crusade against racial intolerance, inequality, and poverty. Like Chaney, Samuel wanted to dedicate his life to making a difference.

"As an architect, my life's not at risk but I still have the same responsibility to address the issues of injustice," says Samuel. "And that started me thinking about the kind of issues that the Rural Studio's dealing with today. The mission of the Rural Studio is not only to educate architects, but educate a community and improve the quality of civic life."

The Solution — Create New Opportunities
Each year, undergraduate students from Auburn University School of Architecture study and work in Hale County. Samuel says, "We chose to build houses with low-income families mainly because there's a great need. This is one of the poorest regions economically, not only in Alabama but in the country. There's a beautiful culture here with a beautiful history to it but economically, it's tough."

"We're on a very tight budget. We have to build as cheaply as possible. The hardest thing for us to find is money to buy bricks and mortar, lumber and nails. We're always looking for ways to save. What other people call garbage, we call opportunity." For example, the students used thousands of old license plates donated by a probate judge as shingles. They built a beautiful glass wall out of Chevy Caprice side windows, made a chapel out of old tires, and with non-recyclable cardboard they built a house. They've also used natural resources — the walls of the "Hay House" are insulated with bales of hay!

"We design our houses not only to have creature comforts — warm in the wintertime and cool in the summer — but they also have to have a spirit to it. [The house] has to be something that we can be proud of and that they're proud of," Samuel says.

One grateful recipient of a Rural Studio home says, "Before I got my house, I was living in total chaos. Me and my children were separated. Once I got my house, I could have all my children back together living with me. That was the greatest part about having a house."