The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced Rural Studio as winner of the 2015 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, recognizing the Newbern, Alabama–based design/build program for its student-led projects that have catered to one of the South’s poorest and most underserved regions.
“Rural Studio’s projects prove that an authentic conversation with the residents, no matter how unconventional the client, can yield ambitious architecture,” stated the AIA in their official press release.
Founded in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee, FAIA, Rural Studio has been under the lead of Andrew Freear since Mockbee's death in 2001. Freer, as the AIA describes, has “built on the co-founder’s legacy by building more and larger community buildings, and creating new ways to replicate the studio’s affordable housing... The most dramatic and innovative change to the way Rural Studio does business is its 20K House Product Line.
"Using Hale County as a laboratory, the studio is creating a set of easily reproducible templates for one- and two-bedroom homes that are affordable for someone on a Social Security fixed income. These houses (16 so far) have less room for the formal experiments of earlier one-off homes, but are intensely suited to their context and climate. Most offer residents a typical shotgun-style house with a generous front porch that is passively ventilated, heated, and cooled. The 20K House project is not a charity but a business plan aimed at making it blindingly obvious how much money socially relevant architecture can make."
“The Rural Studio is not merely a resume of wonderful projects,” wrote AIA Vice President Don Brown, FAIA, in a recommendation letter. “It is a living idea of service that has thankfully become the vocabulary of the next generation of architects.”
Established in 1972, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award has honored architects and organizations that embody the profession’s proactive social mandate through a range of commitments, including affordable housing, inclusiveness, and universal access. The award is named after the civil rights–era head of the Urban League who confronted—head-on—the AIA’s absence of socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 AIA National Convention.