and me.I don’t personally know Frank Gehry, but I have a personal relationship with Samual Mockbee.Lots of people have personal relationships with Samual Mockbee. His friends call him Sambo.Sambo’s legacy is love.
Film maker Wainwright Douglas of Big Beard Films made a documentary on Sambo. He called it “Citizen Architect – Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio.”
This is a documentary that looks at Sambo from the perspective of his students and from regular folk, many of them poor.
Frank Gehry’s legacy is lust.
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, SpainVeteran film director Sydney Pollack called his documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry”. Pollack and Gehry are friends.This is a documentary that looks at Gehry from the perspective of other famous and mostly rich people.
The Lust and the Love of Architecture.
Frank Ghery, Samuel Mockbee and me.
I graduated top of my class at Arizona State. I broke out of the starting gate early and never looked back. I pushed my career hard and by the time I was thirty five, I was a principal in the largest architectural firm in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. The firm started with my name. We had a ton of high profile work. We received award after award. I was published in magazines, quoted in the papers and seen on TV. My children understood I was famous.
I was in love with the lust of architecture.
My architectural foundation was my ego. A foundation built on the soil of ego is a foundation made of soggy cardboard signage. It cost me, I cost me, a wonderful life.
Running away from fame is like running away from fire. Stay too close to it and you get burned. Suck it in too deeply and you choke on your own burnout.
I ran to rural Alabama, far from the fires of fame and met Sambo, professor Mockbee.
The first thing he did was invite me to come to the Auburn University Rural School of Architecture.
“Where’s that?” I asked.
“We’re out in the boondocks right now building a straw bale house for a super-deserving family. Drive on out. Stay the night. Bring some beer.”
I drove out into the middle of nowhere and discovered it was everywhere I wanted and needed to be. Sambo gave me a great big bear hug the first time we met. I loved him right away. We sat around a big fire that night, Sambo and me and maybe a dozen zombie-eyed students, drinking up the juju from a Master Human Being.
Sambo introduced me as a top-notch designer type architect looking for the meaning of life. They all laughed, none as loud and happy as Sambo.
“You’re going to see a whole lot of life manana, brother Marley, a whole lot of life.”
The next day, we drove another twenty minutes through the humidity in the dark green cotton of rural Alabama. This was the Rural School.
An ancient, bean-pole black man with no teeth came up to greet us, smiling like summer squash. Sambo squeezed him and I shook his hand.
“Damn Sambo”, the old man whistled, “Good to see you again. You bring a new friend to see our home?”
What I saw blew my mind and melted my heart. The home was made of stacked bales of straw. Three six foot diameter drainage culverts stuck out the side, the ends capped half with glass, half with corrugated rusty metal. The roof was huge, twice as big as the house below it. It cast tons of shade and cool breeze was everywhere. The family kept pouring out, kids and grandkids and dogs and everybody smiling and holding out their arms to their architect, Sambo.
Bryant (Straw Bale) House, Mason’s Bend, Ala., Rural Studio, 1994Samuel Mockbee introduced me to the Love of Architecture.Sambo said, “Architecture has to be greater than just architecture. It has to address social values, as well as technical and aesthetic values. On top of that, the one true gift that an architect has is his or her imagination. We take something ordinary and elevate it to something extraordinary.”
Sambo added, “Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place. For those of us who design and build, we must do so with an awareness of a more socially responsive architecture. The practice of architecture not only requires participation in the profession but it also requires civic engagement. As a social art, architecture must be made where it is and out of what exists there. The dilemma for every architect is how to advance our profession and our community with our talents rather than our talents being used to compromise them.”
Frank Gehry, Samuel Mockbee and me.