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Wing and a prayer: this new church for a small rural community makes inventive use of salvaged materials, especially timber.

The Rural Studio at Auburn University's College of Architecture, Design and Construction was founded in 1992 by the late Sam Mockbee (AR February 2002), with the aim of extending the study of architecture into a socially responsible context. Groups of students elect to live and work off campus in impoverished parts of western Alabama. The students design and, crucially, construct buildings that challenge convention in terms of methods, materials, and forms (AR March 2001), inventively scavenging and incorporating discarded objects and materials.


The Rural Studio's latest project is for the tiny Antioch Baptist Church in north-west Perry County. Commissioned by local parisioner Cedric Caddell, who declared that he wanted the 'Cadillac of churches', it replaces an original church which served four extended families, but lacked basic facilities such as a washroom and baptismal font, so was losing attendance. The timber-framed, asphalt shingle-clad building was also becoming structurally unsound, so it was decided to demolish it and build a new chapel.


The demolition bore unexpected fruit, as the students took care to salvage as much as possible for recycling in the new building, including lengths of 100 year old heart pine, roof and floor joists, wall panelling, and corrugated metal. Over three quarters of materials in the new church are salvaged, so the old building literally lives on in the new.


The revived church is a compact, angular volume that in its squat form and rustic simplicity evokes and reinterprets the region's rural vernacular. The geometry breaks down into two muscular, interlocking forms. One runs north-south to frame a soaring south wall, with a long glazed horizontal slot overlooking the adjacent cemetery; the other extends east-west to enclose the baptistery at the west end and the preacher's private room and washroom beside the east entrance. Baptist liturgy emphasizes preaching, baptism and communion, so the large baptismal font occupies a prominent position, sunk into the floor behind the pulpit. On the north side, a retaining wall wraps protectively around the chapel, diverting water that undermined the foundations of the original church.

Both salvaged and new timber is employed for the composite wood and metal roof truss structure and external cladding. The roof and north wall are clad in galvanized aluminium sheeting. With its walls, floors and ceiling lined with strips of pine and wooden pews, the interior is a sensual, timber womb, sheltering and nurturing its congregation, as the new church embraces its revived role in local rural life. C.S



Rural Studio, Auburn, USA

Project team

Samuel Mockbee, Andrew Freear, Bill Nauk, Gabe Michaud, Jared Fulton, Marion McElroy


Timothy Hursley

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Rural Studio
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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