September 2, 2011

Hot brakes and unexpected encounters

Day 2. Shortly after departing from our camp site near the San Rafael Swell, the breaks on the cargo van overheated and seized up as we descended the San Rafael Reef.




After some low-tech damage control, getting the breaks to cool down a bit by pouring water on them, we very slowly, very carefully made our way to nearby Green River, UT to find a mechanic. We made the 15 mile drive in about an hour. The mechanic that we found right near the exit assured us that the breaks were ok, just overextended from the steep downgrade, and that we could continue on our way.


This mechanical setback turned out to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Since we were here, we decided to head into town, both to test the breaks before heading on the road again, and for the mandatory pee break. Green River is known for, well the Green River, the chief tributary of the Colorado River. The small town serves as a hub for people embarking on rafting trips and for expeditions into the surrounding canyon country.

We parked the passenger van in front of Ray’s Tavern – famous amongst boaters and adventurers, and were graciously offered some fresh coffee. Soon afterward, Jenn and Ryan came back from their test drive and reported having seen a group of people on bicycles doing “some kind of social practice thing”. We decided to investigate.



The cyclists, riding in circles in front of a renovated storefront, waving American flags, were members of Epicenter, a sister organization to Habitat for Humanity, and the USDA Rural Development Resource Center, and creative design studio.




We talked with crewmembers Maria and Haley about the history and nature of the project. The Epicenter was formed by recent architecture graduates who participated in the unique and socially engaged Rural Studio program at Auburn University.

Interns from different fields come to help with the design and realization of projects that aim to revitalize the town of Green River by renovating buildings, developing affordable housing, holding a music, art and film festival as well as promoting alternative means of transportation. Their motto is “We’re getting things done”.


We are crafting an alternative model of practice, one that can accommodate our fervent desire to collaborate, to provide “shelter for the soul”, and to emphasize place and circumstance – From the Epicenter Tumbler website.


There is an undeniable sense of kinship between the Rural Studio, the Epicenter and the Land Arts of the American West program – a tendency towards cross-pollinization and collaboration and working to build an intimate and engaged relationship to place.


It is no coincidence, for example, that Sam Douglas the author of Citizen Architect, a recent documentary about the Rural Studio program, is currently working on a documentary about the Land Arts of the American West program and is planning on joining us in the field during our second trip in El Paso. And perhaps it is no coincidence either that this morning’s mechanical setback has led us to these kindred spirits.





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