By Lauren Cheramie
Published Dec. 11, 2023
Steve Oubre is an architect with more than 40 years of experience managing projects in a wide range of award-winning building types — including ecclesiastical buildings and campus master plans, schools and universities, museums, medical and health care facilities, restaurants, office buildings, recreation centers, and New Urbanist developments along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
In his retirement, he stays busy, working on personal passion projects, in addition to sailing and traveling the U.S. in his Airstream.
Tell us about the passion projects you’re working on.
My wife and I just got back from sailing for five years. We got back and didn’t have a whole lot to do. I decided that I was going to get back into things that I really believe in. For me, it’s the built environment, trying to make a difference in both community and sustainability, Louisiana culture, etc.
One project is at the University of Louisiana as the master architect to implement their master plan that we did 10 years ago. I’m also involved in reviewing and designing some of the buildings and projects I completed prior to retirement — one in Shreveport called Provenance, which is a traditional neighborhood development similar to River Ranch in Lafayette.
I’m also doing some work in Texas in historic communities, trying to work with individuals to get coding adopted to keep the history of their places intact.
From an architectural standpoint, why is it important to keep history intact?
The final third of my career, which spanned 42 years, was focused on building communities. The communities we built were rooted in walkability and sustainability — so far as materials that we used were recycled. The architecture was fashioned around the history of the places that we were able to work in in Lafayette.
For instance, it was very Acadian. In Baton Rouge, it would’ve had more of a French and perhaps English twist. It’s important that we build communities, rather than suburban developments, that actually allow a variety of different people, price points, age groups and ethnicities to live together.
How do you form community engagement?
The methodology we use to do all of our communities involved what we refer to as a charrette process. We bring the people who are in the community together to discuss the vision for the project and get their input. People have a clear understanding of what it is they like and want and don’t want.
We usually engage them for several weeks in conceptualizing a plan for a specific piece of property that might be surrounded by existing neighborhoods and how sensitive that might be. We’re very much not about gating communities, rather we want to connect adjacent communities and be respectful to them.
Many historic neighborhoods push back on development. We’ve had a pretty successful outcome when we meet with them and tell members about our vision. All of this really evolved from our work post-Katrina.
Having people come to the table and engage in how we should solve their problems, I think was extremely impactful and effective. We continue that model into everything we’ve done lately.
You mentioned a five-year sailing trip. What did the adventure teach you?
It’s amazing. My wife and I talked about it for a while. In 2010, we had not sailed previously, but we bought a boat and kept it in Madisonville for about a year and took sailing lessons.
After a year, we decided that we wanted to take the challenge and bought a bigger boat. We ended up sailing to the Caribbean and to the Bahamas. It was all about self-sufficiency. For the two of us to stay married during all of that was just an amazing thing. We love each other more now than we ever did. It just made a huge difference in our lives.
We aren’t sailing now because COVID put an end to the ability to get food and fuel in the Bahamas, but we’re now in an Airstream and traveling the country. I sketch, draw communities that we visit and the architecture and the people.
What has traveling taught you about people?
As we were traveling, particularly sailing, we were able to stay long enough in a place to become part of the communities. For instance, we stayed in Hope Town in the Bahamas and were there for nine months. Everyone knew us, and we knew everyone. We would have coffee with them in the morning and coffee in the afternoons.
We learned the cultures of these people, which were in so many ways similar to ours but in many ways different. The richness of that is hard to explain. We left Hope Town in 2019 and two weeks later Hurricane Dorian hit. We’ve maintained contact with many of the people there — the waitresses, some of the home owners. The town has a kind of Southern culture in meeting people and becoming friends with them.
Do you do any volunteerism in your community?
Now I have a tremendous amount of time, so I’m involved in a couple of school projects in minority school districts, helping them design classrooms and outdoor activity areas. I serve on a number of boards throughout the community that help similar efforts in that regard. That’s a big part of what I’m doing, and I look forward to it.
Is there anything else we should know about your work or passion projects?
The most important thing in my life right now is making sure that the visions we had and documented are being built according to the vision. Many times, you lose the ability over time to build out places that you envision and being done well. I’m heavily involved in that and trying to help people behind me who do similar things to what we were doing when we were practicing.
How do you support and lift up the people who come behind you?
One of the interesting things that happened in my life, that made me begin thinking differently about how I would live the remainder of my life, was I read “The Rhythm of Life” by Matthew Kelly. The essence of the book is simply talking about how life is very simple if you keep it simple. There are four aspects to it that you should keep in mind: your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. They should be in balance, not one can be stronger than the other.
For me, I was working 80-hour weeks for many years, burning the candle at both ends and focusing on things that were out of balance — much more about my profession than about my family life.
I decided that it was time for me to focus on what really matters, and that’s when I decided to back out of the rat race and begin focusing on my emotional and spiritual side, which is all about loving and helping people. That’s what I took on, and I cherish that today.
If you had to give three tips for leadership, what would they be?
Leadership is about listening to what people have to say, cheering for people and respecting all people for their views on things even though they may not be what yours are.
It’s probably overused, but if we could just love people, we wouldn’t have any of the issues we’re having today. It’s just very simple, and that’s what I’m living by.