Written by Mike Seals
Southern California has long been a leader in the furthering of the architectural landscape. The same temperate climate that makes the area suitable for tourism and agriculture also enables it to support a diverse array of design options. It was the desire to create in this environment that brought Paul McClean to the area from his Irish roots. Founder of the world-renowned architecture firm, McClean Design, he has designed some of the area’s most notable residences, providing a unique blend of function and form.
Igniting the Fire
There are some individuals that seemingly have their professional path set from the earliest of ages. Such was the case of McClean. Growing up in Dublin, he was fascinated by the process of creating residences. He recalled first hearing of the word architect, “Playing with Legos in front of a large window in our house when I was about four years old, I asked my parents who the person is that designs houses, and they told me that was an architect.” Since that day, McClean remained focused on a career in design.
He would regularly read architecture books from the local library, becoming particularly fascinated by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. He also admired Scott Tallon Walker’s design of Dublin’s central bus station. However, it was his focus on residential architecture that initially led him to Los Angeles, hoping to continue to learn in an area at the forefront of residential design. With its unique topography and suburban organization, Southern California is particularly well suited to single family residences.
McClean spoke at length about his personal view of design, noting, “We often say that a home is the background to your life, not the focus of it. It should provide a wonderful place of calm within our busy lives.” He further notes the importance that residential architecture carefully blends practicality and aesthetics.
As his firm has gained increased fanfare for its innovative designs, McClean’s style has become quite well-known in architectural circles. One of the core tenets of his approach is the removal of barriers between the interior and the environment, often extensively using glazing systems to help homes blend in with a picturesque environment. The focus on highlighting the natural beauty through modern techniques has become one of McClean’s calling cards.
“I never really considered replicating designs from the past,” McClean noted. “I was always interested in the connection to nature and our design work is so much better suited to that.” Many of McClean’s designs feature extensive use of water, further highlighting a blend of modernity and nature around the theme of sustainability.
The Collaborative Process
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of locating his firm in Southern California is the wealth of excitement in innovative designs. McClean compares his designs to children, noting their individual uniqueness. The overarching goal is to understand the needs of the home owner in order to create a space that fits their needs.
“We spend a lot of time asking questions and trying to figure out what makes the most sense for their lifestyle… we try and help them to understand their personal patterns of living to achieve a happy home lifestyle.” It is this intensive focus on the functional needs of families that allows McClean to identify what is most important to his clients, allowing him to design an environment around that. He notes that initial conversations spend little time focusing on how the home will look; rather, that component takes shape throughout the process.
Hearing McClean speak of the architectural process is impressive in its own right. His passionate description of designing living spaces makes homes seem to come alive, evolving and growing throughout the creative process. This is where McClean’s true talent can be witnessed as he deftly notes the process of blending inspiration and environment into a finished product with his hallmark of connecting clients to the beauty of the surrounding environment.
In the twenty years since he founded his firm, McClean Design has gradually garnered a great deal of attention for the firm’s projects. While the majority of work occurs throughout Southern California, his designs have made their way to Canada, England and Thailand among other locations. He has produced homes of choice for people like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Calvin Klein, and Avicii. He was also the chief architect for Nile Niami’s “The One,” a 100,000 square foot project with an asking price of $500 million.
When asked to reflect on his favorite projects, McClean is generally hesitant to lift one above the others. However, he has a soft spot for a project on Vallejo Street in San Francisco. “We took a house that had withstood the 1906 earthquake, a beautiful old four-story mansion in Pacific Heights, and reworked it with a modern interior,” said McClean. As part of the project, the home was retrofitted with structure to preserve it for at least another hundred years, further highlighting the architect’s focus on sustainable design.
Those wanting to learn more about McClean’s iconic designs can do so through his recent book, McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House. With a foreword by Valerie Mulvin and Niall McCullough, this book details 21 of McClean’s projects with vivid pictures that truly bring his work to life. Like his work, the book focuses on emphasizing the connection between residence and the natural environment.
The Future of Architecture
It is the future of architecture that perhaps excites McClean the most. After all, he has consistently desired to push the envelope of contemporary residential design. When asked to share his ideas on the future of residential architecture, he noted increasing trends centered upon sustainability as well as vast improvements in materials technology, improving the life span of manmade materials.
McClean also notes the importance of addressing pressing societal needs through design. He remarked, “Our goal is to help lead the way for sustainability in architecture, showing it’s possible to marry a beautiful home design with appropriate responses to climate change.” He also noted the importance of integrating technology in a user-friendly manner that merges advances in an uncomplicated manner.
From his Dublin roots to his world-renowned Southern California firm, McClean has truly excelled in furthering the design conversation through his creations. He hopes the future will bring more thoughtful design, a seamless connection with the environment, and an expansion of modernistic principles. Above all, he is excited about the premise of the future, noting his thrill “to be practicing at a time when we have the technology available to achieve the type of homes our predecessors could only dream of.”
To learn more about Paul McClean and McClean Design visit www.mccleandesign.com.
McClean’s recent book with a foreword by Valerie Mulvin and Niall McCullough, details 21 of McClean’s projects with a collection of visionary images that bring his work to life. Like his work, the book focuses on emphasizing the connection between residence and the natural environment, and offers his reflections on these beautiful projects and the design strategies behind their creation. Book Cover Image by Nick Springett.