Now this is progress: Green Affordable Housing showing at CIA

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 11/20/2006 - 18:01.


Cleveland Institute of Art Reinberger Gallery Director Bruce Checefsky has a deep personal interest in green affordable housing, so I was not surprised to learn the CIA was hosting an exhibition on the subject. Still, when I had the pleasure to preview the show "The Home House Project", I was overwhelmed by the breadth and originality of the content. This is an innovative exhibition on innovation in planning, design, construction and architecture, which is timely and opportune to help this community move from generally bland, resource depleting sprawl to intelligent community redevelopment for an age of global conservation, smart planning, urban renewal and economic transformation. This show is all about visioning our new economy at its foundations, literally, as it explores 100s of concepts for building "green" affordable housing... the anti-McMansion show came to town, and it is fascinating.


"The Home House Project" is far from the usual art exhibit. While it has pictures and constructions, they are plans for buildings and examples of green construction, even featuring a small cutout building within the gallery. Will you enjoy this show? Only if you care about architecture, design, innovation, the environment, or the future of Northeast Ohio and the world. Is this an easy show to take in? No... it is subtly explosive and intellectually challenging... not for the faint of art. I'm going to the gallery again tomorrow to take in more of the show, and will add comments from that, but I recommend reading Plain Dealer Architecture Critic Steven Litt's excellent, glowing review of the show, from Sunday, November 19, 2006, for an expert perspective, and then plan to see the show if you care. I care, and am arranging for friends who care about the future of NEO to join me there and consider how they may integrate what they learn into actionable outcomes for the region.


I'm pleased to point out that this exhibition was launched with a panel discussion visioning a "Green Cleveland", which I had to miss (if you attended, feel free to post your thoughts). From gallery Director Bruce Checefsky about this panel discussion:

“So soon after Cleveland was again ranked the poorest big city in the nation by the U.S. Census Bureau, our hope is this collection of award-winning house designs will capture the interest of city planners, builders, architects, community development activists, advocates for the poor, environmentalists and any other residents concerned about the critical issues of affordable housing, environmental sustainability and good, community-oriented design,”
--- Bruce Checefsky, director of the Institute’s Reinberger Galleries.

It is also important to note, this exhibition continues a refreshingly frequent trend here in NEO, to exhibit and present inspirational and innovative architecture to public forums and spaces where the community becomes engaged in viewing and planning the best prospects for NEO to become a desirable community for the future. Over the past few year, there have been numerous world-class forums and exhibitions on innovative planning and design, significant to NEO, including "Learning from the Dutch Experience", at CSU, the "MoCA Short List Exhibition", at the Kent State Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, and the "Franco Albini Exhibition", at CUDC as well.

 Next up on the green affordable housing front, besides what we each may do in our own ways, is a follow up forum on "Sustainable, Affordable, Innovative Housing Design in Cleveland", arising from the Home House Exhibition, December 6th, featuring Cleveland City Planning Director Robert Brown; developer Nathan Zaremba; Columbus architects Beth Blostein and Bart Overly; and Jeffrey Bowen, director of the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity. See you there.

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the rural studio and my southern rural upbringing

A Rural Studio house

This afternoon, I finally found the time to sit and enjoy the continuously running film, The Rural Studio at the Reinberger Gallery at CIA. I was mesmerized. I had heard of Samuel Mockbee and read about the Rural Studio  in my web travels, but not until I saw the film did the real impact that this architect has made, come home to me. So before I go on, let me say – don’t miss this extraordinary look at innovation in teaching and transformation for those living in poverty.


The Rural Studio involves Auburn University architecture students in work for the poor in Hale County, Alabama. The students design, fund and build community spaces and individual homes for the residents there. Mockbee’s work, his appreciation that students need to not just draw and imagine buildings, but fund, build and gift these buildings to the poorest clients is a testament to how we need to think, going forward. In the film, students interact with their clients and make beautiful buildings for them with found or invented materials, sweat, imagination, responsiveness to the client’s needs and determination. At the end, they receive much more than a degree in architecture. “The goal is not to have a warm, dry house, but to have a warm, dry house with a spirit to it.” -- Samuel Mockbee 


On a personal note, I was raised in the south, just south of Alabama's Black Belt where the Rural Studio is located. The Black Belt  is a swath of land that stretches from the Chattahoochee River, which defines the eastern border of Alabama, to the Mississippi line south of Birmingham. It is a place of beautiful countryside and deep poverty. Yes, it is where Walker Evans took those photos that defined the sad lives of southern sharecroppers during the great depression. Growing up in the south, I experienced the beauty of the terrain and its danger; the genteel southern ladies and gentlemen and the confederate flag-waving bad asses.


I grew up in the last standing long leaf pine forest of the southeastern savannah -- a privilege I took for granted until I moved away. Only 1% of the nation’s long leaf pine forest remains today. Most of it is located on Eglin Air Force Base on the coast of Florida’s Panhandle. I grew up surrounded by the majestic long leaf pines and the determined live oak. I can’t even imagine how many pine needles I braided as a child. The majority of the long leaf pine forest, which once covered the entire southeastern quadrant of the continental US, went for ship and for home building, some simply to clearing for farms over the last 2 centuries. (If you are interested in a fascinating read on the subject, pick up a copy of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray (noted here in a New York Times review).)


Once I moved to Cleveland, I traveled home through Alabama two or three times each year while my parents were still living. You take Interstate Highway through Huntsville and Birmingham and then on to Montgomery; after that it’s two lane roads through the country all the way to the coast. The often moribund farms on rolling hills, second generation turkey oak and slash pine forests line the highways and secondary roads of this part of the country. At night it is truly dark. The occasional barn, overtaken by kudzu, sports a metal roof with some half obscured advertisement painted on to provide the farmer with additional cash. Dusty children and dogs play amid chickens in the front yards of some homes, while stately southern mansions sit quietly far back from the road behind swaying posts of crepe myrtle along winding drives. Rocking chairs still rock here, and life is slower. The smell of the pines and the shimmer of the heat rising from the pavement, the humidity and the rusty cast of red clay on everything – these images are ones I could taste as I watched the film this afternoon. You can find nothing but gospel choirs and preachers on the radio on Sundays.


I used to think of North Florida and South Alabama as the armpit of the nation. A place filled with racism, bigotry and stupid uncultured folks who would never see beyond their own small towns. I ran away as fast as I could and as soon as I could, to the promising north. I have a different feeling now. Now I long for magnolias, camellias, gardenias, azaleas, tea olives, turkey oaks, slash pines and long needle pines, chameleons, palmettos, red clay and sandy soil, lilting speech, graciousness in manners, porch swings, homegrown tomatoes and corn still warm from the sun, peaches, warm breezes with adequate humidity, sunny and rainy days, grits, biscuits and greens and a sustainable Cracker House. I don’t long for the poverty, the racism, the bigotry and the separatism, but I see that it is everywhere. And I see that Mockbee’s philosophy and process offered, and continues to offer, a balm for the deep wounds we have made to our land and the disservices we have perpetrated on its people. We can give back. Maybe one day, the north and south will be one nation, the nations -- one world. See the film, it’ll take you there!


Samuel “Sambo”  Mockbee died in 2001. The Rural Studio is a program of Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction .



Your posting takes me there

What a moving description of your southern home, which sounds beautiful. I can sort of relate. I ran as fast and far as I could from NEO and went south to New Orleans, which until the flood had a very unique climate and ecology that raised similar emotions, and driving back and forth, and around Louisiana and the south, and Florida and Texas, when I lived there, I really enjoyed the culture, and I agree racism and ignorance are everywhere. After Katrina I really wanted to move back to NOLA, but business and family keep me here for now. Thanks for the spiritual voyage back south. I need to go to the "Home House Show" at least a third time, as I've barely scratched the surface, and I'll check this film out! Glad you did and reviewed it here, as I probably wouldn't have thought to sit through it otherwise.

Disrupt IT