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Jefferson Hennessy is a Webmaster and feature article journalist with a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Jefferson is available for feature and profile story writing assignments. He is willing to travel. Click on the "view my complete profile" link to send Jefferson an email message.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Steven J. Oubre, AIA: Innovative Acadiana Architect and New Urbanism Advocate

Innovative Lafayette architect, Steven J. Oubre, is extremely busy these days. His architectural firm, Architects Southwest, is not only an integral member of the team chosen by the Louisiana Recovery Authority to redesign and rebuild the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast, but Oubre’s firm is also in the process of building eleven “mixed-use neighborhoods” whose design is based upon the community planning principles of what is known as New Urbanism.

Oubre (in photo) was introduced to the planning principles of New Urbanism back in 1984 while attending a series of conferences for the owners of Le Triomphe Golf Club to better understand the leading edge concepts for golf course communities. By 1994 Oubre was a passionate advocate for the potential communal richness of the New Urbanist neighborhood, and began planning his first New Urbanism project in Lafayette at River Ranch on Camellia Boulevard.

“The richness of New Urbanism, also known as a Neo-Traditional Community, is that because you have mixed use of buildings – residential, commercial, retail, civic, religious, private - people can live and work in place within a five minute walking distance," says Oubre. "It allows for young people, retired people, and all segments of the economic ladder to live, work, raise children and retire in place. The average citizen has his daily needs met within a five-minute walk. The neighborhood is designed around environmental sensitivity with open land, green spaces, recreation, with an assemblage of building styles and sizes – a cross section of society can all live within that community. River Ranch is the first New Urbanist project in Louisiana.”

In order to design the River Ranch community using New Urbanist principles Oubre had to convince the Lafayette City Council and Planning Commission to waive 119 zoning and building codes. According to Oubre, “As zoning rules exist today, they do not allow River Ranch to be built.”

Fortunately, Oubre’s presentations were successful in convincing the City Council and Planning Commission to allow his New Urbanist project to proceed. Today Architects Southwest is now building eleven more New Urbanist neighborhoods throughout the south.

Lenny Lemoine, a commercial building contractor with The Lemoine Company here in Lafayette believes Oubre has an extraordinary talent and passion for architecture. “Steve is one of the most talented and innovative people. He has a tremendous work ethic. He’s committed to the community with a strong commitment to responsible design. Steve had such a passion for the New Urbanist project at River Ranch, he did a masterful job of getting local government to trust him.”

As an integral member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Oubre’s firm is tasked with the responsibility of implementing the recovery community plans that his firm helped to design along with his two New Urbanist partners Peter Calthorpe Associates of San Francisco, and Duaney Plater-Zyberk of Miami.

According to Oubre their recovery project efforts are going well. “We have completed the replanning of Lake Charles, Vermillion Parish and St. Bernard Parish. Our focus for the next year is to serve as the local firm responsible to implement these plans that we have generated for these communities, which is phenomenal. It’s a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous honor to be involved in that.”

Architects Southwest has also designed and/or remodeled some of Acadiana’s most prominent cultural, historic, and corporate sites such as the Lafayette Natural History Museum, Dupre Library at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, St. Edwards Roman Catholic Church, Home Bank, and Vermilionville, an historic theme park designed to highlight the evolving styles of early Acadian buildings. Oubre’s innovative design for the park showcases the evolving styles of Acadian homes from 1765 to 1870.

“Vermilionville is an historic theme park on 20 acres,” says Oubre. “The Acadians never lived in a town. They had one house, a farm, no formalized village until later. The park’s design is a narrative of Acadian houses as they would nave evolved every ten years, and would not have evolved in a village, but independently on large tracks of property. So when you get to the very rear of Vermilionville, the Al Broussard house is the 1765 house, and as you come forward roughly every ten years the houses have evolved and become more sophisticated. And it culminates at the very front with the overseer’s house, which would have been built in 1870. The park is a comparative analysis of architectural styles.”

President of Home Bank in Lafayette, John Bordelon, is a long-time friend of Oubre and had this to say about his duck hunting and fishing partner’s personality. “He’s amazing,” says Bordelon. “Steve’s juggling so many projects right now, and still has time for his friends. He’s a super guy, and a great sportsman. We do a lot of duck and goose hunting and fishing together. When we were designing this Home Bank building Steve would bring pictures of historic buildings from all parts of the world during each phase of the project to help us understand what we wanted to do. He’s very knowledgeable. When the project was completed he gave me two framed pictures of famous buildings for my office and said these buildings remind me of you. One picture is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the other is the Pantheon in Rome. I was thrilled he would take the time to do that. He’s really a wonderful person.”


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