Rusty Smith

Rusty Smith

Associate Director of Rural Studio

Speaker for Housing the Future 2.0, September 2019

Rusty Smith is the Associate Director of Rural Studio, Auburn University’s internationally recognized design-build program. Established in 1993 Rural Studio gives architecture students a hands-on educational experience while assisting the underserved communities of Alabama’s rural Black Belt region. The students work in partnership with their neighbors in the local community to define solutions, fundraise, design and ultimately build remarkable projects. In its initial years, the Studio first became known for establishing an ethos of recycling, reusing and remaking. Over the past decade Rural Studio has expanded the scope and complexity of its projects to include the design and construction of community-oriented infrastructure, the development of more broadly-attainable small home affordability solutions, and a comprehensive approach to addressing insecurity issues relative to income, energy, food, health, and education resources. All together, the Studio continually questions what should be built, rather than simply what can be built.

Rural Studio has earned a world-renowned reputation not only because of its one-of-a-kind hands-on approach to architectural education, but also in recognition of now more than 200 beautifully designed and constructed projects. Located in the small town of Newbern, Alabama (population: 186), Rural Studio has worked with a broad variety of community partners who together are committed to investing in and reinforcing the collective value of Place. The overarching philosophy of Rural Studio is quite simple: everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good, dignified design, or what founder Sambo Mockbee often referred to as “Shelter for the Soul.”

To date, Rural Studio has educated more than 900 Citizen Architects.

Educated first at Auburn University and then at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rusty is a nationally recognized teacher and scholar. His honors related to teaching excellence include the receipt of both the American Institute of Architects National Teaching Honor Award and the American Institute of Architecture Students National Teaching Honor Award. Collectively, Rural Studio has garnered numerous recognitions for both teaching and design, including The American Institute of Architects Presidential Citation, The Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for Social Responsibility, and the UNESCO Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.