Mari Michael Glassell


Mari Michael Glassell grew up in the small resort community of Gulf Shores, Alabama. "I've never experienced the kind of poverty I'm experiencing in Hale County," she told me in late 2003 during a break from her work on the Patrick House. What impressed her most about the people she met in Newbern was that they have "so much heart. I've talked to a lot of people, especially to the domino gang, the Patricks. I played dominos with them. Often, people just sit on their porches and wave to us as we walk by. They're real welcoming. Everybody eats catfish at the baseball games together and knows everybody; everybody goes to G.B. Mercantile and sits on its porch talking. Henry Reed, across the street from G.B.'s, is usually on his porch, and I go talk to him. There's more trust and friendship here than I've seen in Gulf Shores. I think I'll take that away with me."

Why did she come to the studio? "In architecture school, you can design and draw, but you don't have to worry about how to level the ground, and you don't get to experience clients," she explained. "Here we're designing for real people. It makes me feel as though what I'm doing has real purpose."

A surprise, she said, was "how you really learn to trust each other. At architecture school, you're used to doing everything by yourself. Here, you start to learn how to work together. You learn that people have different strengths, and you work with it. That's what happens in the real world." At the beginning of the semester, "people were shy about expressing their opinions or taking ownership of ideas. They're starting to realize their strength. Students are becoming more down-to-earth. We're learning to know when people are in bad moods and how to handle it." She was impressed with "how doing architecture can help us grow and mature."

At the Rural Studio, Glassell has learned some building process basics, "how building elements go together, how to support roofs and floor joists," she said. And she has become more familiar with materials. Her group experimented with milk crates and shipping pallets as cladding, and "how you can get the same effects from salvaged as from bought materials. We're learning about different insulation values of different materials." Did she intend to return for her fifth year? "Definitely," she answered. "The Rural Studio has been the best experience of my architectural career."

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