Contemporary architect Paul McClean, founder of McClean Design, grew up in Ireland, where he later attended the Dublin Institute of Technology. After graduating with honors, he relocated to Southern California and worked for various architectural firms before establishing McClean Design in 2000. Thanks to the creation of lasting relationships with leading builders and designers, he’s helped ensure that his entire team is committed to realizing the dreams and aspirations of their clients. McClean is a member of the American Institute of Architects and works primarily in California, Hawaii, and Nevada. He recently released his first book, McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House, that takes us behind the scenes of 21 of the architect’s homes that have been completed in the past fifteen years. Today, Paul McClean is joining us for Friday Five.
I have always enjoyed working with different people and am constantly amazed by the different and varied backgrounds of our clients. Design is more than a job for me. It is what I wanted to do as a little boy and which I am lucky enough to be able to practice today and hopefully for a very long time.
Our projects always start with light, architecture is just a way of sculpting light in the end. I think we sometimes forget how important light is to our moods and well-being. Growing up in Northern Europe the winters were long and dark, and I think that’s part of what attracted me to coming here in the first place. Upon leaving a greyhound bus terminal in San Francisco many years ago, my initial impression of California was an intense blue sky laced with watery fog. We spend a lot of time thinking about how light will work in a space, trying to find ways to ensure that we have different exposures so that you can feel the movement of sun as the day passes.
Water is life, but here in Southern California the landscape is mostly defined by the lack of it. Coming from a wet climate, I gravitate to water as a design tool. We borrow from the long history of using water in arid climates as a source of cooling and comfort. All of our projects incorporate water as a defining element; we use pools to passively cool spaces, to control how people move, to reflect light deep into spaces, and to act as a mirror to the landscape and sky. We generally choose dark finishes to enhance the reflectivity of the water.
We are really fortunate in Southern California to live in a very mild climate. Here, if you add water, almost anything will grow, but I find that every landscape is beautiful. I can only say that for me the desert landscape is as inspiring as a tropical mountain. In our work, we try to make sure that landscape and nature are a fundamental part of the design; we work to break down the barriers between interior and exterior space so that you remain connected to your surroundings rather than separate from them.
Any project we do starts with how we can enhance the views that surround us. We have been really lucky to work on amazing sites with views of the city, canyons, or the sea, but even a dense urban site has a view of the sky. The trick is to edit the view so that we can find balance and a little serenity for the people within. We will often edit views like a director, establishing the scene. We do this by strategically placing buildings, landscape components, and water to control how you walk the property and see the surroundings; for example using a tree to block an unsightly utility pole or a pool to prevent you from walking to the end of the yard to see the street below. It can also be as simple as a sculpture at the end of a garden to draw the eye.
It would be hard to imagine a life without architecture for me. I wanted to be an architect since I was a small boy, and I have trouble visualizing what I would do if I couldn’t practice it. It’s more of a calling than a job and an integral part of who I am, there really was no other option. I am continually inspired by the great work I see being done by so many professionals out there, most of it unsung – including our friends working in interior and landscape design. I am frequently humbled when I see the quality of projects that have been done in the past; visit any city in Europe, for example, and just walk around and look at all the beautiful design work done over the centuries. Not to mention the astonishing work of the distant past, such as the Pantheon in Rome or the Parthenon in Athens. It’s often the smaller buildings that surprise me though; we visited Bruges in Belgium this year and every street was full of wonders, and I don’t mean the chocolate.
Work by Paul McClean: