Director of Auburn University’s Rural Studio program to receive prestigious Architectural League of New York's President’s Medal

Published: February 04, 2020
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The director of Auburn University’s Rural Studio program, Andrew Freear, will be recognized in April with the Architectural League of New York's highest honor, the 2020 President's Medal.

The accolade—being officially bestowed at the discretion of the league’s president and board of directors in New York City on April 14—recognizes individuals for extraordinary achievements in architecture, urbanism, art, design and the environment. In the past, the award has gone to such high-profile names as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, Italian architect Renzo Piano, climate activist and United Nations Paris Agreement negotiator Christiana Figueres, architect Henry N. Cobb, artist Richard Serra and planner Amanda Burden.

“I’m absolutely delighted and, given the previous recipients, I feel very humbled by this honor," said Freear. "The award acknowledges the value of our teaching method and our desire to address challenges of rural living, and validates our belief that good design should be for everyone." 

Since 2001, Freear has directed Rural Studio, a Newbern, Alabama-program of the Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction. During that time, he has shaped a deeply considered, widely influential model of architectural education that has enriched and intensified the training of more than 1,000 architecture students, helping them develop as “citizen architects” prepared to use design as a tool for social good.

The studio is a residential, off-campus, hands-on design/build program based in rural Hale County, Alabama. It was founded in 1993 by architects Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth on the belief that “everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good design.” As director, Freear has developed the pedagogical approach of the studio to emphasize design learning through making, the practical discipline of achieving design quality while hewing to stringent budgets, and deep engagement with communities to discern “what should be built, rather than what can be built.”

Through semester- and year-long programs, architecture students work in teams to research, propose, design, present, modify and construct projects for the benefit of individual residents and the overall community. Through the years, Rural Studio has built more than 200 projects, ranging from houses, to a farm, to a library and community hub for Newbern in a former bank building, to a firehouse for Newbern’s new volunteer fire department, to multiple projects in Lions Park in Greensboro, Alabama.

Recognizing the systemic drivers and pervasive nature of poor housing conditions in rural America, Rural Studio has also developed projects such as the Front Porch Initiative, which “aims to develop a scalable, agile and resilient delivery process for beautiful, well-designed high-performance homes titled as real property while supporting an industry to home building in under-resourced rural communities.” Through two decades of sustained effort, Andrew Freear has transformed what matters in architecture and architectural education through the agency of design and action in rural communities.

Freear will be celebrated at the April 14 dinner in remarks by architects Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, New York City and President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Marlon Blackwell, Marlon Blackwell Architects and E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture and a Distinguished Professor in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; and Architectural League President Paul Lewis, LTL Architects, New York City.

Freear will also deliver a lecture, Stories from the Hinterland, in the Architectural League’s Current Work lecture series on April 15.

The College of Architecture, Design and Construction embraces the land grant mission of Auburn University by actively seeking ways to address and anticipate the critical issues of the region, the nation, and the world. The College's highly regarded programs in architecture, industrial design, landscape architecture and construction management as well as unique off-campus programs such as Rural Studio, Urban Studio and the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program expand the boundaries of the classroom and offer an unmatched educational experience.