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A Rural Studio Tour

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As the Project M team continued to wrack their humidified brains, we were treated to a personal tour of some of the Rural Studio’s sites with Bruce Lindsey, former head of the Studio. If you’re not familiar with the story, feel free to educate yourself, but here’s the skinny: Since the early 90s, thanks to one Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, Auburn University architecture students have been designing and building houses for residents in and around Hale County, an extremely rural and economically depressed community. There’s also an Urban Studio in Birmingham.

With coverage in most design publications, museum exhibitions, books, you name it, we were worried about tourism overwhelming the area, but students and faculty have worked really hard to keep the experience authentic. Although we heard word of tour buses (yes, there are some, apparently), it’s preferable to grab a simple map and respectfully navigate the country roads yourself. Supposedly the influx of interest brings $2 million to the county per year, which was a shocker. But besides the stunning projects, there’s no real sign of gentrification as far as we could see. Kudzu-covered derelict buildings dot the lush landscape, and many of the buildings on Main Street here in Greensboro are abandoned. In many ways, it hasn’t changed much since its appearance in the Walker Evans-James Agee book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (we’ve all been reading the follow up article in Fortune, which checks in with the descendants of those photos). But these are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet–who are plenty proud to show you their homes, by the way. Plus there’s mountains of crispy fried catfish for dinner.

Above is the animal shelter–referred to by everyone as The Dog Pound–which was definitely one of the most impressive things we’ve ever seen. Namely because the three students were working away on it in 95-degree heat.

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Here’s a secret garden in the courtyard of a hospital. Huge cement bunkers hold bamboo mini-forests.

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Improving the ballfields has been extremely important to Rural Studio students, and this latest project, still in progress, incorporates a unique chainlink structure and a cistern for collecting graywater.

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The Butterfly House in Mason’s Bend.

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