Mockbee Southern Genius
by Ted Katauskas
Earlier this summer, Alabama architect Samuel Mockbee picked up the phone and found out he was a genius. Not just a genius, mind you. But one of only three in the entire profession.
He protested that his transcripts from Auburn University (where he received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1974) proved otherwise. Didn't matter. The fifth-generation Mississippian with the molasses drawl was told he had won a no-strings-attached MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, a $500,000 award that over the past two decades has been bestowed on only 588 people. (The other two architects were Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio.)
Genius? Mockbee eschews the humble title of teacher, even though he is a full professor at Auburn University's School of Architecture, Design and Construction and has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, and a half-dozen other architecture schools.
He insists he's no artist, either, despite the fact that he is an accomplished painter and draftsman with a one-man show ("Samuel Mockbee: The Architecture of the Black Warrior River," September 9 through October 21) at the Max Protetch Gallery in New York.
But he feels comfortable with people calling him an architect, and not because he was the only one represented twice at this summer's Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Institution National Design Triennial, or because he received the National Building Museum's Apgar Award for Excellence in 1999, Record Houses Awards in 1997 and 1992, and several honor awards.
"A true architect practices all three professions simultaneously," Mockbee explains. "The role of an architect/ artist/ teacher is to challenge the status quo and help others see what the possibilities can be."
The Cook House's corrugated metal roof suggests a barn, but the entrance in the middle of an asymmetrical chimney gives the design a contemporary twist.
Photo: Undine Prohl
The Cook House, by Mockbee/Coker Architects, won a 1994 National AIA Honor Award.
Photo: Undine Prohl
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