Monday, April 28th, 2008

Sambo in my ‘hood


Posted by Becky | View all posts by Becky
7 Comments » | Published in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Community Serivce, Design Books, Design Magazines, Design on the Web, Design Press, Green Design  |  7 Comments


I’ve been meaning to tell you about this great book my Mom brought me as a hostess gift about a year ago. It’s a monograph of the work of Samuel ‘Sambo’ Mockbee, appropriately titled Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency. I kept putting it off, because frankly, scanning stuff is a boring chore, plus, it’s really hard to pick just a few projects from this book. I doubt I can summarize it better than the book jacket:

For almost ten years, Samuel Mockbee, a recent MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, and his architecture students at Auburn University have been designing and building striking houses and community buildings for impoverished residents of Alabama’s Hale County. Using salvaged lumber and bricks, discarded tires, hay and waste cardboard bales, concrete rubble, colored bottles, and old license plates, they create inexpensive buildings in a style Mockbee describes as ‘contemporary modernism grounded in Southern culture.'”

This is the first project from Sambo I remember seeing back in architecture school. It’s The Cardboard Pod and is made from baled sheets of corrugated wax-impregnated boards:


This is the incredible Yancey Chapel, built around an existing rusted trough and constructed from 1000 dirt-filled used tires:


This property near The Yancey Chapel is called The Goat House, a former shed for animals that Rural Studio originally planned as part of an artists’ colony. The colony never, um, colonized, and the building is now a residence. You see the Chapel aesthetic influence on the structure:


Anyway, I was catching up on my pile of Metropolis magazines over the weekend – I tend to let them stack up because I like to read all of the articles, and I tend to save them for airplanes or vacations. Anyway, I almost fell over when I saw this house featured. It’s a few blocks from my house in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, and I’ve admired it on walks many times. “The second burning of Atlanta” has been happening in my neighborhood in the form of teardowns – cute little bungalows and cottages that give the neighborhood its charm are decimated so that square-footage monsters can use up every inch of each lot. I’ve always admired this addition as an appropriate and really interesting to look at; in fact, I’ve always wanted to knock on the door and ask if I could check out the interior, but I’m just not that aggressive.


Well, to make a long story longer, Sambo and his Rural Studio designed this addition to a 550-square foot former dairy barn in exchange for two canoes. The job was finished by Lloyd Bray and Durham Crout of Atlanta. According to the article, they used copper cladding, pegged cypress and traditional Japanese joinery techniques. The meticulous work has paid off. The color has a warm glow, and I love the contrast between the materials they used and the wild garden is remarkable. By the way, this shot was taken level with the house, but it sits below the street level, so the height of the addition doesn’t give that overshadowing hideous, “I’m too tall for this neighborhood and I belong in Alpharetta” look that most of the teardowns in my neighborhood have.


Though Sambo is not with us anymore, his good works live on. For more information on Rural Studio, click here. Their website is really good. If you’d like to join in the Outreach Program, click here. To donate to Rural Studio, click here.You can catch the full Metropolis article in a much better format than squinting at my scan right here.• Top three images from the above-mentioned book, taken by Timothy Hursley• Bottom two images from Metropolis magazine, photos by Michael Griffeth

About Becky:
Hi, I'm Becky. I live in Atlanta. Besides acting as the Editorial Director here on Hatch, you can find me talking design over at Houzz. Make me happy — leave a comment!

About Becky

has written 1620 post in this blog.

Hi, I'm Becky. I live in Atlanta. Besides acting as the Editorial Director here on Hatch, you can find me talking design over at Houzz. Make me happy — leave a comment!



  1. Rhea says:

    April 29th, 2008 at 4:27 am (#)

    There is an exhibition called Southern Exposure: Contemporary Regional Architecture which features the work of the Rural Studio at the Virginia Center for Architecture through June 8. It features the Yancey Chapel as well as several other projects. The exhibition also highlights the work of other contemporary architects practicing in the Regional style, including Marlon Blackwell, Frank Harmon, W.G. Clark, and the firms of Lake|Flato and Mack Scogin Merril Elam Architects

    On Thursday, May 1, 2008, Jason Coomes, a faculty member of the Rural Studio, discusses the ongoing work of the studio.

    The Virginia Center for Architecture is located in Richmond, Virginia. If you’d like more information, please visit

  2. Hatch: The Design Public® Blog » Blog Archive » Modern Atlanta Home Tour says:

    May 9th, 2008 at 9:52 am (#)

    […] if we could only get that Mockbee house two streets over on the tour next year, all of my nosy neighbor curiosities would be fully […]

  3. lily friedlander says:

    May 27th, 2008 at 3:11 pm (#)

    Hi, Becky,

    I’m so happy you like my house; it has obviously been (and will continue to be) a labor of love. You’re welcome to come by any time – look for my orange Honda Element. But heads up – my two standard poodles may be out in the yard and they like to jump on visitors!

    As for the tour, Durham and I are planning to renovate the two upper floors and add a small tower in the back – pretty major renovations. After that’s complete I’d love to satisfy all nosey neighbors!

    It was an honor to work with Sambo; what a magnificent human being he was. i will always be grateful for his generosity.

  4. Becky says:

    May 27th, 2008 at 4:26 pm (#)

    Lily, I would LOVE to take you up on that offer! A friend and I were admiring your fabulous gardens on a walk the other day. I am so thrilled that you found this post! The same thing happened with another Atlanta house I toured last week, where the owners saw the post and commented – that had never happened to me before as a blogger and it is so neat!

    Thank you so much for your kind offer!


  5. Hatch: The Design Public® Blog » Blog Archive » Weekend Catch Up! says:

    June 2nd, 2008 at 12:11 pm (#)

    […] to my neighbor Lily for inviting me over to see her amazing home. Lily saw the blog post I wrote and invited me to come see the inside. I cannot wait, and […]

  6. Hatch: The Design Public® Blog » Blog Archive » Sambo in My ‘Hood II - I Got Inside! says:

    June 5th, 2008 at 6:30 am (#)

    […] had a blogging first happen yesterday. A few months ago, I wrote about a house in my neighborhood with a Samuel Mockbee-designed addition. The architect was Googling himself (wow, ten years ago […]

  7. Hatch: The Design Public ® Blog » Blog Archive » Yestermorrow Design/Build School says:

    July 1st, 2008 at 11:39 am (#)

    […] about their vibe reminds me of Sambo’s Rural Studio, probably because most of their built works benefit […]

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