UL alumnus Steve Oubre is drawing international attention for his work with 'Smart Growth,' particularly his designs for River Ranch here in Lafayette. He spoke with ultoday.com about his work.

Steve Oubre, Architects Southwest, University of LouisianaTell us about yourself.

To begin with, I graduated from UL in 1976 in Architecture. I went to Houston to find work, which was difficult at the time, because the economy was very similar to right now. I found out very quickly that UL was well recognized in that market, and landed a job in the first two weeks with a very large firm there.

Having grown up in South Louisiana, Houston proved to be a place of little culture, and no intrigue to me, so I was there for only six months.

I was called back here to work for a firm that had actually been commissioned to do my thesis, which was the development of a state park in the Atchafalaya Basin. I came back, and was commissioned by them for 2½ years, still in my internship. The project was headed by Sandra Thompson. It was extremely important to me, because I was always driving by and visualizing an architecture that would be rooted in the site. What could be better than the Atchafalaya Basin as a design site?

Because of the economy, the project was defeated in the Legislature and never got built. So my penchant for site-sensitive architecture was put on the back burner for some time. Later, in 1984, I was commissioned to master-plan a golf course community, which today is known as Le Triomphe.

Which was an architectural success, but a business disaster, and that taught me not only about the design side, but the business side as well. In addition, I was exposed to one of the most prominent architects in the world, Andres Duany, when I was attending a conference on the design of communities. At the time, Seaside was just two blocks, and was only 2½ years old.

I met him, which began an interest that culminated in 1991 in a joint venture with him and his firm to do the first smart-growth community in Louisiana called the Village of île de Canne, the Island of Cane, here in Lafayette.

It didn't get built.

And so, after having gone through the exercise of understanding the delivery mechanism of Duany, I was offered an opportunity for a summer session at Harvard, which I did. Immediately on return from that session, I was commissioned to do what has become River Ranch.

River Ranch, Lafayette Louisiana, Steve Oubre, Smart Growth, University of LouisianaThe concept of River Ranch at the time was an unknown movement, particularly in the state of Louisiana. It was essentially the development of community based on the richness of how people interact, day in and day out, in a meaningful way. River Ranch has led us to the development of communities across the Sun Belt from Alabama to Arizona.

Very recently, we were involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans and Lake Charles after the Hurricanes, teaming again with Duany and his firm, DPZ out of Miami. New Orleans was an intriguing exercise because it involved taking what was, previous to Katrina, a market-rate product, and converting it to a socially-sensitive product, in rebuilding the city to accommodate its population prior to the event.

All of these exercises have exposed us to the development of communities that are not only considered profitable, but are also strong social interventions in rebuilding many of our region's inner cities and blighted neighborhoods.

Most recently, we have been selected to redesign an inner city neighborhood in New Iberia called Hopkins. One of the UL architecture classes did the preliminary work on that, and we're expanding on what they did. As a result of that effort, the community has received over $2M in grants geared toward rebuilding the district, in a project that originates in a grass-roots level of citizen participation, not from government.