Meet Maria Sykes and Jack Forinash. They are Auburn University architecture graduates, the program made famous by Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio in rural Hale County, Alabama.

After graduating from college, the “right” path would be to move to a big city and get a job with the best architecture firm possible. Time to work off those student loans and design corporate office buildings. Ugh.

Instead, they decided to take the “wrong” path and move to the unlikely town of Green River, Utah, which has a population of 973 people and is located on the banks of the Green River. Definitely not Brooklyn. Once a thriving town and home to an Air Force missile testing base, the town has fallen on hard times like so much of rural America. Most of the buildings in the downtown are empty and boarded up. Some are about to collapse and one is now an accidental “guano farm” and home to hundreds of bats. Nevertheless, Jack and Maria fell in love with the scruffy little town and set up a non-profit called Epicenter in 2009 to help drive positive change.

Once established, Epicenter purchased a historic building, redesigned the space and renovated the structure. And here is where things start to get really interesting and “wrong” 

Not only did Jack and Maria deviate from the expected career path by moving to a dying town, they have executed their projects at a high level of design absent from organizations focused on rural community development. Instead of conforming to the orthodoxies of small-town non-profits, they busted the status quo and have built a fantastic headquarters for their work that helps to attract a growing community of like-minded creative insurgents.

This week we ran a 2-day Think Wrong Blitz with Epicenter to generate ideas for future projects at Epicenter. Stay tuned for updates on the proposed bunkhouse/hostel (see the Kex Hostel in Iceland) to make it easier for more people and groups to fall in love with the town of Green River.

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