Deep in a forest, this pavilion helps to reinvigorate community life
The evangelising premise of the Rural Studio is now well known, yet Sam Mockbee’s brilliant brainchild of extending the study and practice of architecture into a socially responsible context continues to flourish, even after his death (AR February 2002). Now under the direction of Englishman Andrew Freear, Mockbee’s mission goes on. Every quarter, groups of students from Auburn University elect to and live and work off campus in the impoverished counties of western Alabama. Working with the local Department of Human Resources, the students tackle small-scale projects that engage with the unpalatable, neglected margins of American society. As with all Rural Studio endeavours, architectural involvement goes well beyond the abstract niceties of design into the more challenging and uncharted realms of hands-on building, and sourcing materials, as well as finance , and administration.
Here, a quartet of students designed and built a new pavilion for communal activities in a neglected park in Perry County, the most impoverished county in Alabama. The park was first created in the 1930s, but was closed in 1970 and left untouched for over 30 years, slowly growing into a luscious, mysterious, forgotten landscape. Utterly simple in conception and execution, the pavilion is tucked in among a lush, hardwood forest of water tupelos and cypress trees near a former picnic area. Shaped like a giant megaphone, it sits boldly in its arboreal setting.A large deck made of local cedar forms a datum for viewing, assembly and performance. The deck is raised some 18 in (450mm) off the ground (to resist the regular local floods) and cranks up to create benches and a formal entrance. Set against this main datum is a smaller, more intimate enclave with a love seat. The deck is sheltered by a thin, aluminium-clad roof that soars up to 24ft (7.3m) at its highest point. From a distance, the trunk-like columns blend with the trees, so the roof appears to hover lightly above the deck.
The Cedar Pavilion has proved immensely popular, hosting communal gatherings, catfish fries and family reunions, as well as functioning as an open-air classroom for local schools and colleges. Jurors admired the clarity and economy of the architecture and how, in formidable social circumstances, it helped to renew and foster a sense of community.
Pavilion, Perry County, Alabama, USA
Architect: Rural St udio, Auburn, USA
Project team: Jennifer Bonner, Mary Beth Maness,Nathan Orrison,Anthony Tindill
Photographs: Courtesy of the architect