dancing with architecture: greensboro, alabama (with a side of tuscaloosa)

Once again, I had a wee bit of time (2.5 hours) before catching a flight back to Austin, so after googling "Modern Architecture Tuscaloosa" (which is where I was), I was surprised (and excited) to see how close I was to the stomping grounds of Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio in Greensboro, Alabama (I first learned about Rural Studio from Kerrie Jacobs' "The Perfect $100,000 House"). I barely had 45 minutes to partake of the Studio's substantial volume of work in the area, but the weather was glorious, and I was able to ChevyChase several built projects of the 150 realized in the area.

There ain't much to Greensboro. The lushly green town of 2,700 sports several gorgeous Greek Revival mansions as well as its overly fair share of trailers and shotgun shacks. Rural Studio is somewhat similar to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen in that the intent is to give students hands-on experience designing and building. Associated with the undergraduate design program at Auburn, Rural Studio differs from Taliesen in that the structures it builds are off-site and for the general benefit of the community or the poorer folks of the area. The combination of donated designs and sweat equity (by the students and the locals) has resulted in a remarkable collection of Modern and progressive architecture in an area that would normally be devoid of it.

Samuel Mockbee was into reuse and recycling in architecture for philosophical and budgetary reasons, and his projects reflect that ethos. The focus on high-design/low-cost echoes R.M. Schindler's work, especially his more expressive later work, and the exuberant randomness and kooky use of typical materials evokes Frank Gehry's earlier work.

If you go (and hopefully have more time than I did), you'll want to visit Rural Studio's offices which are about 15 minutes south of Greensboro where you can get a map of project locations (if you go after hours, reports suggest a map is posted in a window there as well). I was not able to get a map because that side trip would have eaten up almost all of my time allotted to visit architecture (and I couldn't find a copy online). There's an online Google map of the Studio's projects; however, based on my sampling of locales, 75 percent of the locations on this map are brutally incorrect. Fortunately, I was able to Google/Apple Map names of the public structures to locate them.

I was really impressed with the beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people, and the biscuits. I'll be going back, bride to tow, to spend more time in the area.

This photo and one above are of a repurposed main street building.

This photo and subsequent ones are of a playground and playhouse.

This is the animal shelter.

This park is almost all Rural Studio projects.

The latest project at the park (architecture students were there working on it).

Clever rainwater harvesting system.

Gehryesque baseball backdrops.

Concession stand.

Playscape at the park made with barrels. 

Boy Scouts facility.

Skate park.

This church literally out in the middle of nowhere (no address, just lat-long coordinates [although it does show up by name in Apple Maps) is gorgeous. The wood is from the earlier dilapidated church.

I like how the designers framed a view of the cemetery from the pews; a direct reminder of mortality through memento mori.

And here's the sad part: the congregation is making non-sympathetic modifications to the building as their fortunes and needs change. The unartful stand there is to add air conditioning to the church. 

Yikes. I have to think that if the church reached out to Rural Studio, the studio would have assisted with the "design" of this.

There was an attempt to blend the ductwork and return into the interior (but that is, indeed, black painted particle board.)

The other bummer is that they are replacing the wood, at least on the front, with aluminum siding. The fellow and his son installing the siding and I lamented about architects' love affair with unfinished wood exposed to the elements (given my dapper dressing and fashion-forward eyeglasses, they thought I was the architect!). Seeing this and the AC addition drove home that an architect's original vision only exists for a short window of time after completion. Most people see buildings as simply meeting a need, not as art objects. Although the modification to this beautifully designed church are tragic, it's difficult for me to be angry or disappointed in folks who barely have two dimes to rub together let alone worry about maintaining the original aesthetics of an architect's vision. Just as in the graveyard next to it, all returns to dust, even out buildings.  

Bonus post-within-a-post: Tuscaloosa, Alabama!

When I think of Alabama, I think about biscuits. And I wasn't disappointed.

A park and fountain designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple.

Where I spent most of my time...

Hands down and heads above the best biscuits and gravy I've ever enjoyed. I will be thinking about this meal until my dying days.

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