I am lending my support and turning over my website to Eric Schmid, a recent graduate from the University of Oklahoma Scholars Program with a Bachelors in Architecture and a minor in Business. Eric and I have been talking about a highly competitive program that he applied for, and was accepted – the Rural Studio run by Auburn University. This internationally competitive program only accepts 4 students per year and Eric is one of them. This is the now famous program started by the late Samuel Mockbee and it is worthy of all our support. This is the type of program that changes people’s life – not just the people who are the beneficiaries of the created projects, but the young architects who dedicate their time and sweat equity to make them a reality – this is THE definition of architecture of decency.
“If architecture is going to nudge, cajole, and inspire a community to challenge the status quo into making responsible changes, it will take the subversive leadership of academics and practitioners who keep reminding students of the profession’s responsibilities.” – Samuel Mockbee founder of The Rural Studio.
Iver Wahl is burly. His strong hands are aging but still fierce. Iver’s hands tell stories of a blue collared machinery worker, who understands what a good day’s work really means. My grandpa always said that you can tell a lot about a man by shaking his hand. When Iver grasped onto you with his meat hooks you feel humbled by his overall potency, and if his vise-like grip isn’t enough to demand respect, his sterling stare, which can see right through you, will. Iver Wahl is right. Not because he thinks he is always right, but because he has the necessary experience. Iver has worked construction, ran machinery building military aircraft, designed buildings, and corrupted young architecture students with the truth. He was my very first studio professor at the University of Oklahoma; 150 girls and boys showed up for class on day one, 55 young men and women came back for day two. Professor Wahl is mean; he can kill the dreams of a weak architect student in 10 minutes. Iver Wahl is the most demanding teacher I have ever had. Iver Wahl does not ask for respect, nor does he demand it, but Iver Wahl deserves every last bit of it.
Iver led a group of wide eyed students on a trip through Europe showing them the history of architecture and urban design through the seasoned eyes of a veteran. I was lucky enough to be one of these students. I lost my breath chasing Iver through snowy London streets and rainy Tuscan alleys. He pushed our class harder than most, all while quietly suffering from pneumonia. Iver taught us of the baroque, immersed us in the renaissance, but changed our lives when he wheezed about the modernists. I saw amazing things in Europe. I was fortunate enough to visit many architectural gems like Chartres Cathedral, Stonehenge, Notre Dame, Ronchamp, Lloyds of London, The Forum and Coliseum; but the moment I began to understand architecture was inside a damp windowless classroom in southeast Paris.
Iver swiftly explained what the modern architect, and what the modern movement was really about: “Grand ideas for the normal people… the nobodies,” he said, “that is what the modern movement is all about, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” He forced to me question my motives, he asked: “Is it okay to do architecture just for the money, when 22 million Russians died in World War II fighting for someone else’s ideas?” Iver explained he had been a part of many firms and saw hundreds of projects go through his supervision and was only proud of one: a house built in a rural area of Arkansas for a pig farmer for no commission. It was not the greatest of designs, some may say that it was boring or bad. But the change that it made in the lives of the farmer’s family out-shined the design. And Iver said that he can die happy today knowing that he made someone else’s life better. Without losing time Iver moved on to cover other relevant subject matter we were studying in Paris, but all of the students in the room had lost any interest in learning anything more.
I came to architecture school in the fall of 2005 ready to learn how to create sexy buildings. I spent plenty of time trying my best to be that kind of architect. But in that damp Parisian classroom I was given a real direction with my educational and professional future. My education at the University of Oklahoma has provided me a solid foundation in critical thinking and architectural design, but it has not given me the opportunity to truly affect the lives of others. I see in the Rural Studio Outreach Program a chance to do so for the first time. Rural Studio is teaching students how to make change and think on a human scale. I know that Iver Wahl is proud of this style of education, and I know that if it’s okay with an old school modern architect like Iver, it can’t be wrong.
It is unfortunate that we live in a time when architectural students graduate and are swept into the commercial building business, strangled by programs and designs that lack spirit. Many times in school, my colleagues say they want to be an architect because it affects people, and it is the unavoidable art. Yet these same colleagues are willingly selling themselves to the business of bad corporate design. I am not ready to accept this kind of future for myself. I know that Iver Wahl’s experiences made him the man he is today. He managed to corrupt the minds of twelve students with truth. I accept his challenge to make architecture that matters. My first step is Rural Studio.
The Rural Studio is a design-build architecture studio run by Auburn University which aims to teach students about the social responsibilities of the profession of architecture while also providing safe, well-constructed and inspirational homes and buildings for poor communities in rural west Alabama.
The Outreach Program was conceived as a way to bring outside students and collaborators into the fold of the Rural Studio. It has evolved from individualized non-architectural projects to a team project. The Outreach students are embedded in the Thesis Studio and work to further the 20K House. One of the most challenging of all Rural Studio projects, it deals with the question: what kind of house can be designed for $10,000 in materials when the other $10,000 goes for labor costs and profit? This internationally competitive application process only accepts four students each year.
Since 2005, this award winning research program has been working to bridge current barriers in accessing affordable federal housing programs. The $20K Project involves architecture students developing a range of home plans and prototypes that can be built by local contractors under the USDA’s Rural Housing Service Section 502 Guaranteed Rural Housing Loan Program for construction and homeowner financing. This program serves rural residents who have a steady, low or modest income, and yet are unable to obtain adequate housing through conventional financing. The Rural Studio $20K house project gets its name from the lowest realistic mortgage a person on social security could maintain.
The program is a two semester professional residency for holders of a bachelor’s degrees wishing to participate in the Rural Studio. Participants are admitted and enrolled as outreach students in the non-credit experiential certificate program. Upon successful participation in the program and all related activities, outreach students receive a certificate of completion.
I look forward to dissecting the powerful ideas and processes that make The Rural Studio so internationally renowned for challenging the architectural and cultural status quo. Most importantly I am passionate about spreading the ideas of realistic low income housing and the strategies being used to make encouraging social change. Due to the nature of the program, most financial aid programs are not applicable to help with tuition assistance. Government subsidized loans, fellowships, research grants, and other similar funding programs have not been a successful resource for helping provide tuition assistance due to semantic details.
I greatly enjoy discussing my passions with those who are interested. If you wish to have a great conversation, I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.