Beyond The Shotgun Shack

Robbie Barber, Dreams of Flying, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn AL

Robbie Barber‘s Dreams of Flying sculpture at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in Auburn, from a visit in 2017

Last week at Fast Company: Beyond the shotgun shack: How architects are rethinking Southern buildings for the 21st century: A South Forty is a new exhibition that showcases Southern architecture far beyond the stereotypes.

Due to its history, its culture, and especially its climate, the American South has a unique architectural style. Too often, though, the buildings of the South are boiled down to stereotypes.

“It can either be the sharecropper shacks that were valorized by Walker Evans and James Agee or the white columned plantation mansions that are valorized in Gone With the Wind,” says Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design at the University of Arkansas.

In fairness, I think if one were to close one’s eyes and imagine architecture in even certain cities, certain opposing architectural stereotypes might also come to mind: Brooklyn. Philadelphia. San Francisco.

I grew up in a ranch house with deep-plush carpet throughout, a sunken den, a sliding glass door in the back, and a bay window. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you know this house and likely had, or went to a friend’s sleepover in one. We all know this house. I hope someone somewhere right now is writing not a coffee table book with big pics and wide shots of linoleum-floored kitchens and tasteful Formica countertops, but rather the Great American Treatise on the Great Middle-Class American Architectural Workhorse that is the Ranch House.

I’m about to start Alan Hess’ Ranch House — I think that’s the best out there now.

Sidenote: maybe funniest thing that ever happened at this house — went to prom one year, my date picked me up, I wasn’t used to these silly pumps, and I fell off the front porch into a big azalea bush.

Ginger, Prom

haaaa photo cropped to protect my poor date, who went in this white tux

Back to the exhibit — firms included:

Alterstudio Architecture ; archimania; ARCHITECTUREFIRM; Dake Wells Architecture; de leon & primmer architecture workshop; DEMX Architecture; Duvall Decker; Ecological Design Group; El Dorado / KSU Design + Make Studio; emerymcclure architecture; EskewDumezRipple; Evoke Studio Architecture; Frank Harmon Architect; Fultz & Singh Architects; Helix Architecture + Design; Hobgood Architects; Ray Huff Architect; Huŏ ; in situ studio; Katherine Hogan Architects; Marlon Blackwell Architects; modus studio; Office of Jonathan Tate; patterhn ives; Pendulum Studio; Polk Stanley Wilcox; Rural Studio, Auburn University; Sanders Pace Architecture; SILO AR+D; Somewhere Studio; The Raleigh Architecture Company; unabridged Architecture; University of Arkansas Community Design Center; University of Arkansas Urban Design Build Studio; Vines Architecture; W.G. Clark Architect.

Among those especially compelling:

Marlon Blackwell’s work for St Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church (I’m wondering if those convention chairs are explained by the fact that there is a *lot* of standing in some Christian Orthodox services, so someone please let me know if that explains those rather than, say a pew or theater seating. Thank you!)

Duvall Decker’s — well, so many of their projects

Particularly thoughtful, the Eskew Dumez Ripple plan for Thaden School in Bentonville, taking inspiration from regional chicken farms: “They tend to be narrow, oriented east-west, with overhangs at the roof eave. These qualities allow the buildings to block the south wind, encourage natural ventilation at the eave, and avoid excess exposure to low angle sun. Such strategies offered compelling instruction on how best to handle building distribution on site in the Arkansas climate” and desire to keep the grounds open: “The campus is a porous one, highlighting the importance of buildings and spaces that aren’t insular, but truly connected to not only the landscape, but the entire environment and surrounding community.”

Wonderful what Clayton March, founder, said about the buildings:

What I love about this campus in our one-story buildings, is it achieves a sense of flight and upward motion in a humble way. These are not arrogant buildings. They’re humble buildings. But they’re still lofty.

Rural Studio’s 20k homes

20K Homes, Greensboro AL

20K Homes, Greensboro AL

More Rural Studio Homes, Greensboro AL

Also worth a read: ArchDaily’s Re-evaluating Critical Regionalism: An Architecture of the Place