Prime Builders

When Aristotle whipped out the term “architectonic,” which refers to something with a unified structure, he meant politics—apparently politicians in Athens were more harmonious than they are today. Architects (from the Greek for “prime builders”) have deconstructed the word to “tectonic” to denote a composition that reflects the elements that frame it—a Greek temple reflects its post and beam structure, Gaudi’s melting ice-cream Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona tries not to remind the viewer that it is a big heavy building.

In their book Terra Viscus, architect power couple Michael and Ursula Emery McClure write, “The terra viscus is a super-saturated soil, one that is never completely solid or liquid, one that is never in stasis.” They proceed to explore the building strategies available when using the tectonic realities of southern Louisiana. In other words they strive to create buildings that culturally, organically, and physically “belong” here.

All this high-minded architecture theory to talk about a pool house.

Baton Rouge residents John Turner and Jerry Fischer live in a 1920s-style bungalow in the Garden District. They wanted to unify their outdoor pool space, garage, and home, keeping the original line of the buildings, but making definitive areas of work and enjoyment throughout the space. Additionally, the pool house would also serve as an outdoor kitchen with a usable cooking hearth that could be seen from any other space in the yard or from the main house.

“We wanted it done right,” Turner says. So they called in the firm of Emery McClure (namely, the McClures) who besides being architects are associate professors of architecture at LSU and UL Lafayette. “We had pretty specific design ideas when we first started,” Fischer adds. “We gave them specifics and then they came up with some very interesting designs—through the evolution of the project we got what we wanted.”

The McClures decided to plant the fireplace as a “pivot” to the design of the space. Turner and Fischer host social events ranging from warm weather pool parties to sit-down dinners to cool weather soirees, so it was important to them for the hearth to do double-duty as heater and as a functional cooking space. Taking a cue from their book extolling Louisiana tectonic design, the architects executed a version of the outdoor kitchen at Magnolia Mound plantation.

After all, the original kitchen by definition would be a reflection of its environment, having been designed from sheer necessity and built from locally available resources. In the Turner/Fischer home, the fireplace acts as a symbolic and structural focal point from which the rest of the design proceeds.

In Terra Viscus the McClures write that the sopping Louisiana soil is in a “continuous state of being made and being removed.” A build-out from the main house, which serves as a trellised walkway, establishes rectilinear definitions resonating in the rectangular shape of the two pools. Square stepping stones are checkered with live green grass almost as if the image of the pool house is pixelating on its edges, its component squares floating off like silt disseminating downstream.

The project has garnered national attention. Southern Living magazine chose it as Best Outdoor Space last year. “They succeeded in dividing the outdoor spaces into separate rooms,” Turner says, obviously happy with the outcome. In the bridge between two polarities—modern pools, old time woodwork kitchen—the McClures created something on the lines of Aristotle’s Square of Opposition whereby the tension between the edges creates a stunning, yet comfortable living space.

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