Drawing, Concept Sketches, Butterfly House, Auburn, AL, 1997
One of the most important and innovative architects working today, Samuel Mockbee was among the architects featured in the museum’s National Design Triennial exhibition in 2000. He was also a National Design Award finalist in 2000 and a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant.”
Mockbee works in two capacities. His private firm with Coleman Coker—Mockbee-Coker Architects, established in 1986 in Memphis, Tennessee—focuses on site-specific architecture that relates to the topography and the history of the locale. In addition to his private practice, Mockbee also runs an alternative practice, Rural Studio, in connection with his teaching architecture at Auburn University in Alabama. In 1993, Mockbee co-founded Rural Studio with Dennis K. Ruth, who was then head of the School of Architecture at Auburn. Rural Studio’s vision was to develop low-cost, innovative housing for people in a poor, rural community, while providing hands-on experience to university architecture students and encouraging a strong social conscience in architectural work. Since its inception, Rural Studio has brought design and architecture directly to the citizens of Hale County, Alabama, working with county administration to find families in need, ascertain their housing requirements, and design and construct a home using recycled and inexpensive materials. Rural Studio has gained international recognition as a model of alternative architectural practice and education.
One of Rural Studio’s most innovative homes is the Harris House, built between 1996–98 for Anderson and Ora Lee Harris. The home is also known as the Butterfly House due to its sharply pitched roof structure, which channels rainwater into cisterns for reuse. The roof covers an open porch, a central design element since the family spent much of their time away from the house’s heat in the relative cool of the outdoors. Ramps and wide doorways allow for the elderly Mrs. Harris’s wheelchair. Low-cost materials and recycled wood from a nearby 105-year-old church kept the building's cost to the project budget of $30,000.
The drawing documents many of the key design challenges, and it is also visually interesting. It shows a series of 12 sketches including the plan, elevations, and sections of the house. The Y-shaped plan at the bottom of the sheet shows the two wings of the house with porch in the middle. The elevation above indicates the placement of fans above the doorways to circulate warm air in the winter and draw in cool air in the summer. Above are different elevations of the “butterfly” roof. Since Rural Studio does not produce many concept or design development drawings for their projects, this sheet is rare and especially significant.
Gail S. Davidson with Marilyn Symmes
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Its dimensions are
35.5 x 43.0 cm (14 x 16 15/16 in. )
It is signed
Signed in pen and black ink, lower right: Mockbee '97
It is inscribed
Inscribed in pen and black ink, lower left: "Butterfly House"/(@ Rural Studio); on drawing, at lower center: bed/kit/living/porch
Cite this object as
Drawing, Concept Sketches, Butterfly House, Auburn, AL, 1997; USA; pen and black ink on heavy cream paper; 35.5 x 43.0 cm (14 x 16 15/16 in. ); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2001-5-1