Architect Michael McClure is more interested in how a structure works than what it looks like.

His pragmatic design sense has earned him international acclaim. In 2008, he and his wife Ursula received the prestigious Gorham P. Stevens Rome Prize for Architecture. Past recipients of the prize include John Russell Pope, who designed the Jefferson Memorial.

The Rome Prize, created in 1894, enables 30 American scholars and creative artists from a variety of disciplines to live and work in Rome each year. McClure’s wife and business partner, Ursula Emery McClure is an associate professor of architecture at LSU. Together, they are partners in the firm emerymcclure architecture.

He earned the 2011 Distinguished Professor Award presented by the UL Foundation.

Gordon Brooks, dean of UL’s College of the Arts and an architect himself, said McClure has integrated highly theoretical research and scholarship into his professional practice in Louisiana.

“In a world that has only recently awakened to the value of the wetlands, he provides highly creative solutions to the coexistence of the built environment and the preservation of coastal conditions that protect us from the horrific losses of hurricanes and other natural disasters,” Brooks said.

In 2006, McClure completed a design project called “NOkat: no category, no catastrophe.” It featured designs for high-density housing in New Orleans’ 9th Ward to replace homes destroyed by post-Katrina flooding in 2005. The design allows for seasonal flooding that occurs when melting snow in northern parts of the country makes the Mississippi River swell and spill over its banks.

“For a long time, we’ve been trying to create failsafe buildings and infrastructure in vulnerable areas, and it hasn’t served us well. Instead of trying to find something that’s failsafe, it might be better to design things that are safe to fail,” McClure said.
“Design is about finding solutions to problems,” he continued. “I’m looking for inclusive solutions. Instead of looking at a situation and saying, ‘either/or,’ I’m looking for solutions that say ‘both/and.’”

One of the courses McClure teaches is Advanced Architectural Design. His students call it “the plant class.”

“I ask them to choose a plant that’s native to the coastal environment. It may be an oak tree, or marsh grass. I want them to gain an intimate understanding of how that plant survives in the environment. What strategies has it adopted to be successful? What kind of root system does it have?” McClure explained.

“As students begin to experience the coastal environment, they can apply the design principles they find in nature. If we’re going to build structures in a coastal environment, we really have to understand the dynamics of that environment. That includes its geography and geology, its history and the culture of its people. We’re part of a bigger system.”

McClure joined the UL faculty in 2001 after teaching at the Pratt Institute, Tulane University and LSU.

The University of Louisiana Foundation honored four exceptional faculty members in April who inspire their students and colleagues. Honorees are nominated and chosen by their peers. The Distinguished Professor Award has been given since 1965. The Excellence in Teaching Award was established in 1992 and was renamed in 2008 to honor former UL President Dr. Ray P. Authement. The awards include a stipend and are given each year at a banquet held to honor the recipients.

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