In 1994, while fifth year student Ruard Veltman and Mockbee were admiring the light filtering through the bottles embedded in Shepard Bryant's smoke house, Veltman said his thesis group wanted to "do something like this" for their thesis project, Mockbee replied: "Why don't y'all build a chapel?" Soon afterwards, Mockbee was talking to an Auburn University supporter and cow farmer, Lemuel Morrison where she offered to let the students build the chapel on her Sawyerville farm to help lower building costs.
Veltman and his thesis project partners, Steve Durden and Tom Tretheway located the chapel on a bluff with a striking view of fields and wetlands beyond. A careful selection of construction methods and materials allowed the chapel to be built for only $15,000 dollars. The open air chapel's walls were formed from the stacking of used tired which were then packed with dirt until they became rock hard. To reinforce the tires, they used reinforcing rods, then covered the tires with wire mesh and coated it with stucco. The rest of the materials were scavenged from the surrounding countryside. Floor slates were quarried from a creek, heavy pine timbers from an abandoned building were re-purposed and they used rusted tin shingles for the roof.
When approaching the chapel, a visitor steps down into a a narrow and dark entryway to face a pulpit made constructed of scrap steel donated by the Hale County Department of Transportation. A small stream trickles into the chapel through a break in the wall down into a trough, which a visitor steps over, protected by a metal grill. The water adds a soothing touch and continues to flow to the wetlands below.
Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley