One of the best ways to learn is by immersing yourself in that thing that is new. It is one of the reasons why the Rose Fellowship of which I am an alum works so well. Architectural designers are immersed into the work of a community development corporation for three years. They have to figure out how to do the work with successes and fails.

I just finished watching Citizen Architect – a documentary about Samual Mocbee, aka Sambo. Mockbee started the Rural Studio in New Bern, Alabama in 1993 when the profession of architecture was hitting a boom period. Magazines were filled with pictures of high design projects with big budgets in big cities. His program taking design students out to a rural community to design and build homes and community structures for people who really need healthy living spaces and buildings to gather in was one of the first to use immersion to teach architecture.

The documentary is inspiring for people who desire to take something they love to do – in this case solve problems using design – and use it to improve the “world”. That world can be your backyard or wherever you find yourself. The documentary does a great job of weaving in stories of people who were inspired by Mockbee to start similar programs in other locations or to use his philosophy that design can serve anyone not just the wealthy. I love that the film maker shows project and people over a long time span, at least seven years. Viewers see how people have lived in the homes and how community members have been impacted by the work. We watch the students doing the work and also get a few glimpses what they think years after the experience.

When Rural Studio started getting national and international attention for the design and then the mission of the program, Mockbee became an icon. His untimely death saddened many trying to follow along his path.

The film reminds me of the ideals that I am trying to put forth in my work in whatever way I can. It also shows that with a few resources and creativity great things are possible despite location and other obstacles people may see as a barrier.

View the documentary online until Sept 20 or purchase the DVD.