By: Casey Bucher
Samuel Mockbee was an architect and teacher in the deep south at Auburn University. After graduating and becoming licensed, Mockbee chose to remain in the rural area instead of migrating to the large cities with the large projects and bigger paychecks. He felt that his hometown is what needed him the most, so he remained in the poorest areas of Alabama to create a better community. It is stated in the article that Mockbee won numerous awards for his work, most notably the MacArthur Fellow and the AIA Gold Medal, yet his projects were far from the urban architectural elite. The true reason he became one of the greatest leaders in the architecture world is by sticking to his own personal beliefs.
According to Robert K. Greenleaf’s ten traits characteristic of servant-leaders, Samuel Mockbee has the potential of being identified with every single one. After reading the article about his life’s work, I do not doubt that there isn’t a trait that he didn’t possess. However, there are a few that definitely define his work more than others. “Empathy to accept and recognize people for their special and unique spirit.” This is a characteristic that is the basis of why Mockbee is who he is. He sees the need in his community and is drawn to help, no matter what that person’s circumstances may be. “Awareness - especially about values and ethics.” Mockbee knows the limitations of the poor communities and is receptive to the decisions that need to be made to improve the areas. “Foresight to understand the lessons of the past, the realities of the present, and the consequences of a future decision.” By creating his classroom, known as the Rural Studio, he addresses the housing and community needs of the poor and can teach his students the best kind of decisions for the problems at hand. Most architecture students are given studio projects located in the big cities with unlimited budgets, but through his studio a student can see the opposite end of the spectrum and really work through the problems of rural areas. “Stewardship to hold something in trust for another - a commitment to serve the needs of others.” Again, Mockbee’s beliefs were that everyone is deserving. This meant that no matter what the poor could provide, he would find a way and make it work. He was a leader of the people and his community, serving their needs to his fullest potential.
When reading this article on Samuel Mockbee, one Building Block of Building the Architecture of Trust really stood out. “Creating new value: Limitations Power the Creation of Original Solutions.” In the article it says, “when people throw their hands up and say ‘it can’t be done!’ they deny themselves the most exciting experience of engaging their own creativity.” I feel that this couldn’t explain Mockbee’s work any better. He chose to stay in one of the most challenging areas for architecture. He chose to serve his community’s needs no matter what the personal risk may be. It is hard to building buildings and homes in an area that has no money, yet he did it and excelled at it. In this process, he also showed his students that it is most definitely possible and CAN BE DONE!
In the end, with Mockbee’s Rural Studio, he has created a lasting program for teaching the importance of community needs, creativity, and carrying out his beliefs on social welfare. His views on architecture being incorporated everywhere, no matter how big or small the community is, is a quality every architect should believe in. Many architects get caught up in the bigger picture and leaving their stamp, when Mockbee is just trying to create a design out of the materials he was given. His views on architecture and how it is important everywhere are something that really hit home for me. I’m from a very small community and this article just proves that anything in architecture is possible and creativity is key. Samuel Mockbee’s leadership qualities and beliefs are characteristics that I will strive to achieve when I am one day working in the field of architecture.