Sambo Mockbee

Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee

DEC. 23, 1944 – DEC. 30, 2001

Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee dedicated his life, as a teacher and as an architect, to creating architecture that not only elevated the living standards of the rural poor but also provided “shelter for the soul.” Mockbee was so committed to this pure act of service that, in 1991, he abandoned a full-time architectural practice with Coleman Coker and the firm Mockbee Coker Architects to accept a position at the Auburn University School of Architecture. It was there that he and long time friend and Auburn professor D.K. Ruth conceived of and founded the Rural Studio.

A fifth-generation Mississippian, Mockbee was born on December 23, 1944 in Meridian. Upon graduating from high school and before beginning the formal study of architecture, Sambo served two years in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer at Fort Benning, Georgia. At the conclusion of his armed service commitment, he enrolled at Auburn and graduated from the School of Architecture in 1974. He returned to his native Mississippi in 1977 and established a reputation for outstanding design through the utilization of local materials to create a work based upon derivations of vernacular imagery. In 1990, he was selected, along with his partner Coleman Coker, by the Architectural League of New York to participate in their prestigious Emerging Voices Series. In 1993, he was awarded a grant from the Graham Foundation for work under the title “The Nurturing of Culture in the Rural South: An Architectonic Documentary.” Mockbee garnered worldwide media attention in the 90s, and he has been featured prominently by the popular and the professional media, including ABC’s Nightline, Oprah Winfrey, CNN, CBS, PBS, The New York Times Magazine, People, and countless architectural publications.

In 1998, Mockbee was diagnosed with leukemia. After a strong and near miraculous recovery, he went on to accept awards and recognition for his work including the first-ever National Building Museum’s Apgar Award for Excellence in 1998; selection as one of five finalists for environmental, social, and aesthetic contributions by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in a White House Ceremony in 2000; the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2001; and, most notably, inclusion as a MacArthur Foundation Genius in 2001.

Seven days after his 57th birthday, Mockbee passed away from complications with his disease. His work was featured in the Whitney Museum of Art 2002 Biennial, and Mockbee posthumously received the 2004 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, their highest honor.

In addition to Auburn, Mockbee taught at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, and the University of Virginia.

His wife, Jacquelyn Johnson Mockbee, resides in the home Mockbee built for his family in Canton, Mississippi. They have four children: Margaret, Sarah Ann, Carol and Julius.

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