Andrew Freear Wins Jefferson Medal

John Hill
2. mars 2023
Rural Studio: Newbern Library, 2015 (Photo © Timothy Hursley)

The University of Virginia, which does not grant honorary degrees, collaborates annually with the Jefferson Foundation to award medals in fields of special interest to Thomas Jefferson: architecture, citizen leadership, and law. The trio of medals for 2023 were announced on the last day of February, with Freear named the recipient of the Architecture Medal. Jason Rezaian, writer at the Washington Post, was named recipient of the Citizen Leadership Medal, while lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju from Inida were named recipients of the Law Medal. The annual medals are given out formally on April 13, the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, and celebrated with a luncheon at UVA and formal dinner at Monticello. Accompanying the invitation-only events are free public lectures by the recipients, including one by Freear at 4 pm in the auditorium in Old Cabell Hall.

The Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture was created in 1966, when it was given to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Recent winners include Kenneth Frampton, Francis Kéré, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, David Adjaye, Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara, Cecil Balmond, Herman Hertzberger, Toyo Ito, Laurie Olin, and Rafael Moneo.

Andrew Freear (Photo © Timothy Hursley)

Andrew Freear is the Wiatt Professor and director of Auburn University Rural Studio in Hale County, Alabama. Founded by Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth in 1993, Rural Studio is easily the most famous design-build program in the world, due in part to the creative austerity of the designs realized by students — a chapel made from tires! a community center covered by car windshields! — but mainly because of its sustained core mission: “to educate architecture students who live on site and design and build structures for residents and communities in the under-resourced persistently impoverished rural region known as the Black Belt,” per Auburn University.

Following degrees from the University of Westminster (1988) and the Architectural Association (1994), Freear worked and taught in Chicago before heading to Alabama to teach at Auburn University for one year and then its Rural Studio program. At the end of 2001, Mockbee died from leukemia at just 57 years old. Ruth took over immediately after Mockbee's death but soon after handed the reins to Freear, who has maintained that position since — twice as long as Mockbee and just one indication of how he shares his predecessor's belief that design has the power to advance positive social outcomes.

In the two decades that Freear has directed Rural Studio, students have designed and built more than 200 community buildings, homes, and parks in Hale County. Notable projects include the ongoing 20K Houses, the Safe House Black Historic Museum in Greensboro, and the Newbern Library. Under his tenure, Rural Studio was awarded the National Design Award in Architecture / Interior Design from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2022.

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