Of Note Left Sambo
Mockbee, FAIA, (1944–2001) believed that architecture should be “greater than just architecture” and co-founded the Auburn University Rural Studio. Below The 2,500-sf Akron Boys & Girls Club in Akron, Ala. was completed in by Rural Studio in September 2008.
Public Interest Design by Margaret R. Sledge, AIA
As a new AIA member, I decided to make use of my complimentary convention pass and attend the June AIA National Convention in Denver. At my first session, I was excited to hear William Carpenter discuss the intersection of academics and the profession; he is, like me, a former student of Sambo Mockbee. Mockbee (1944–2001) was co-founder of the Auburn University Rural Studio program and was honored with the AIA Gold Medal in 2003. Carpenter spoke of the Rural Studio as a unique experience, one that is difficult to replicate but not without precedent, and one with lessons for all of us. This was the first of many sessions I attended over the next few days in which the Rural Studio and Mockbee were invoked as sources of inspiration. It quickly became clear to me that there is a growing interest in practicing socially conscious architecture and that young people are leading the charge. Often referred to as Public Interest Design (PID), which is described as a movement at the intersection of design and service, this topic has
Pro-bono and PID allow us to expand the boundaries of our practices by engaging in services outside the norm of traditional architectural practice.
Many architects already do pro-bono work as part of their practice. Many others are interested in
14 Texas Architect
finding ways to do more. Several groups present at the AIA National Convention offer assistance to designers eager to open their business to less conventional ways of practicing. One particularly helpful place to start is the 1% Program of Public Architecture, which connects nonprofit organizations in need of design assistance with architecture and design firms willing to donate their time on a pro-bono basis. A relatively new program, the Public Interest Design Institute offers training to interested students and professionals at various universities around the country. Whether the action is making a formal commitment to what you and your practice are already doing, or starting your first pro-bono job, you will likely find that the acknowledgement of your engagement in socially conscious architecture will be good for your business as a whole. This was something that keynote speaker Blake Mycoskie recounted learning in his experi-
ence as the founder of TOMS. Good deeds will attract clients with similar ethical stances. As architects, we are able to analyze existing conditions, envision an improved future condition, and effectively communicate our ideas. Our attention to detail and our training in the art of systems integration, as well as our ability to listen, synthesize situations, and provide tangible and practical solutions, all combine to ensure that we are uniquely positioned for public service even when a building is not the end goal. Pro-bono and PID allow us to expand the boundaries of our practices by engaging in services outside the norm of traditional architectural practice. Public Interest Design is not without its own set of challenges. It forces us to engage in the “messy” aspects of a more diverse discourse while rendering our processes more transparent. Having patience at the beginning of a relation-
PHOTOS BY TIM HURSLEY.
interested me since my first experience at Rural Studio in 2000. At that time, it was challenging to find mentors in the field who felt the same way I did. By the end of my first day in Denver, I began to understand the extent of the AIA’s increasing support of socially conscious and pro-bono design. The focus on the topic in Denver was impressive: Two of the three keynote speeches centered on service to underprivileged communities both here in the United States and abroad. Approximately 11 sessions of the total 115 sessions touched on pro-bono architectural services, design for disaster or poverty relief, or some aspect of socially conscious architecture. As I moved from one session to another, I heard many arguments in support of this focus and its benefits for both the profession and the communities in which we live and work.