SUBMERGED EXPERIENCE, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

SUBMERGED EXPERIENCE, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

2021 European Cultural Centre Architecture Award

Use: Art Installation/Exhibition
Location: Venice, Italy

From the detail of a single stitch, through the granular lens of New Orleans, synthesized with Venice, NANO pursued the transformation of space, emphasizing the liminal moment. A heterogeneous experience is created which heightens the observer’s perception of change through time resulting in the experience of existence. Within the context of site, both micro and macro, the juxtaposition of place reveals parallels typically unseen. This installation will challenge the observer to pause and deliberate on how the confluence of space is experienced.

Liminal space is the experience of departing one condition but not fully entering the next, the “crossing over”. It’s a transitory space. Within the liminal moment the body is between junctures; its existence uncertain. Shelter and safety are inherent in our psyche as architects and designers; but reflection and existence can only be tested in that liminal space of the unknown. With this understanding of scale, place and being, there must exist the opposite of the normative, where the contrast of quiet and loud, known and unknown, safe and unsafe define the flux of space. The liminal moment, although temporal, reminds us of our absolute and relative existence in our world and inspires reflection on the ephemeral nature of existence.

Venice and New Orleans exist in precarious states. Both are liminal cities; places between land and water, part of both, yet fully in neither. New Orleans and Venice remain resilient by embracing their unique topography, cultural identities, and indigenous peoples. This dynamism has fostered diverse and distinctive cultures through artistic innovation, exemplary in theNew Orleans Mardi Gras and Carnevale di Venezia.

Within the purlieu of the space, each extent has a role to play. Abstracting the vulnerability of Venice and New Orleans and their relationship to water, section cuts were created by emphasizing the high, low and corresponding topography, conceiving an alternative field condition resulting in the reflection of submerged space. Surrounded by the songs and sounds of both cities, an atmospheric cadence emerges, changing from rhythms to voices creating spatial syncopation. Absence of ground is contrasted by the traces of moments past, both collective and individual, on vertical boundaries.

Existence is measured by experiences over time, time as the means of measure from inception to death. From the womb we become aware of our existence, our first relative experience with spatial and emotional relationships. Within the liminal, the relative path was established by the simulation of the each of the creators’ movements and their individual expectations of the space. This phenomenological experience is an amalgamation of these movements, articulated by shifts and stops along their paths.

SUBMERGED EXPERIENCE is a conscious manifestation of the latent conditions of space, as revealed by our unconscious actions, experiences that are not experienced, yet are perceived as the way we see our world and traverse through it.

The Process of Submerged Experience, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

The Process of Submerged Experience, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

Through our analytical processes of design, NANO’s intention was to transform the provided space by creating a heterogeneous experience that heightens the patron’s perception; empha­sizing the liminal moment between spaces, the relationship of change through time resulting in the experience of existence.

Within the context of site, both micro and macro, the analysis of place will reveal relationships typically unseen creating an experience not experienced.

NANO’s installation challenged patrons to pause and deliberate on how the confluence of space is experienced. 

What happens when we cross over a threshold?

What makes some spaces more comfortable than others?

How does space evoke an atmosphere or feeling?
How does materiality transform space?

Can architecture affect our perception of time?

How can space be sustainable through time?

These questions guided us as we continued to develop and refine our design, which, like all our work, explored answers at every scale – from the detail of a single joint, through the granular lens of New Orleans, to the connection with all of Venice.


SUBMERGED EXPERIENCE is broken down into three primary components:

  1. A ceiling condition which overlays the topographies of New Orleans and Venice, and represents the relationship in 3-D space
  2. A prescribed sequence spatializing the transitional characteristics of space and existence
  3. A visual experience displaying the evolution of culture and tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians

In creating the path through our exhibit, we first began by outlining the physical parameters of our exhibit space. We filmed + mapped out each of our team member’s instinctive, non-directed path through the empty space. Our mappings illustrated various paths and speeds but revealed common moments of interest, which assisted us in informing a portion of the physical construction + guided our approach to the visitor’s experience.

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Use: Municipal / Assembly
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 580,000 SF
Category: Architecture, Commercial, In-Process, Interiors, Municipal

NANO was hired by the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority as the Architect of Record for the Stage 1 Interior Upgrades, marking the “largest contract the [Exhibition Hall Authority] has ever awarded to a Small and Emerging Business”.

The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (MCCNO) houses an event space that can provide over 1 million contiguous linear feet for their customers, leaving endless possibilities only limited by the show designer’s imagination. Even with this impressive statistic, many convention-goers are drawn to MCCNO largely due to the culture, history and experiences New Orleans has to offer. With this in mind, NANO’s prime design directive takes a two-fold approach: modernize all meeting rooms, corridors, public gathering spaces, and pre-function spaces while incorporating the experience of New Orleans into the facility through food, art, lighting, textures, rhythms, movement, and visitor interactions.

Beginning in 1984, the facility was built in three phases over the course of 10 years; continuity was achieved at the building transitions, but over the years has become disconnected. A key ambition of NANO’s design team is to utilize the inconsistencies as opportunities for improvement, growth, and stability throughout the framework of the facility. NANO identified where the disconnects existed between MCCNO and their end goal before being able to address them and find the inherent opportunities. Interviews with staff were combined with research and on-site observations to identify and address all challenges and considerations.

Currently, NANO is responsible for the improvements of over 580,000 SF of space consisting of first floor lobby areas, pre-function skylight areas, pre-function corridors, and meeting rooms. All doors and storefronts will be replaced as part of the access control and security upgrades, as well as repairs to the Great Hall after Hurricane Ida and converting the Nouvelle Ballroom into additional meeting room spaces.

The team is utilizing the patterns, typical urban Arche types, and the natural forces of the Mississippi River that historically determined our unique urban grid system into the design of the facility. Abstracting typical materiality, exclusive to New Orleans and cultural context, we are producing a heterogenous design strategy for a holistic experience that emulates New Orleans without imitation.

Other crucial goals that are driving the design of the facility are the AIA 2030 Commitment, modernizing infrastructure and technology in a post-COVID environment, promoting local small businesses, cultivating a better connection with the New Orleans community, and strengthening MCCNO’s identity that captures the essence of New Orleans.

The Dead Rabbit


Use: Restaurant
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 5,215 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

When the owners of the Dead Rabbit, an upscale Irish restaurant and bar in New York City, decided to open a second location in New Orleans, they asked NANO to design their new home in a nineteenth-century structure at the heart of the French Quarter.

NANO guided the project through the city’s complex approvals process, restoring and renovating the three-story brick-and-timber townhouse with a design that celebrates both Ireland and New Orleans, bridging the bar’s established aesthetic with the city’s unique history and character.

NANO worked collaboratively with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) to find creative solutions for preserving the French Quarter’s historic fabric while meeting the client’s needs. Together, we untangled the building’s history of illegal alterations and nonconforming uses, and developed thoughtful strategies for converting the 200-year-old home into a modern restaurant and bar. Our sensitive and surprising interventions included carving out space for a second means of egress, installing ventilation for the commercial kitchen in an existing illegally built dormer, and transforming a questionable roof deck above an existing first-floor addition into a one-of-a-kind French Quarter courtyard.
To give the bar an authentic character, the design showcases the building’s history and architectural artifacts. In addition to restoring the brick facade and its original details, we reworked the idiosyncratic array of street-level openings to accommodate the new program, adding a second entrance for safety and convenience, and painted all trim red to match the Dead Rabbit’s brand. Inside, the original brick walls and original timber joist complement the Dead Rabbit’s signature beadboard and custom millwork. Integrated architectural details bridge the buildings’ past and present, like an original opening with fanlight transom repurposed as a serving window.

Each floor offers a unique dining experience. The first floor is a cozy pub with warm wood paneling and intimate nooks. On the second floor, open tables, along with balcony and courtyard seating, offer a variety of indoor and outdoor dining options. Because the courtyard didn’t contribute to the building’s historic integrity, we were able to make it a distinctly contemporary outdoor dining space – possibly the only one in the Quarter. The third floor features additional balcony seating as well as a private dining room and, due to the unusual existing conditions, the restaurant’s main kitchen.

At times, working on the Dead Rabbit was almost like solving a puzzle. Through creativity and collaboration, we’ve leveraged our expertise with historic buildings to help the Dead Rabbit expand, blending the culture and cuisine of New Orleans and Ireland.

Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School Auditorium

Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School Auditorium

Use: Education
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 15,078 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

The Frederick Douglass High School auditorium isn’t just anarea for student performance; it’s an important civic space for the Bywater neighborhood. Since 2005, the auditorium has been closed due to damage from Hurricane Katrina; its grand Art Deco-inspired assemblyleft only for the use of storage. To help the school system return this invaluable resource to the community, NANO devised a strategy for making the auditorium more accessible, more accommodating, and more authentic than it has been for decades. 

In addition to overseeing the sensitive repairs of the hurricane-caused damage, we are working with local artisans and restoration specialists to preserve the feeling of the 1940s auditorium – cleaning and repainting its original deco-patterned acoustic tile ceiling and restoring all the original light fixtures and wooden chairs. And to ensure visitors are comfortable in the restored auditorium, we integrated a new air conditioning system into the building’s structure. The unobtrusive new system features custom high-flow grills artfully set into the existing ceiling grid, and ducts installed between the trusses concealed above. Visitors won’t see the changes, but on a sweltering New Orleans day, they’ll definitely feel the difference. 

While retaining the historic character of the 1940s building, NANO also improved accessibility throughout the building to ensure it could serve the entire community. With great care and thoughtfulness to the existing space, we incorporated a wheelchair lift into the stage, removed seating to create wider aisles, and added more visitor seating. We also integrated a more accessible production control platform to the theater’s main floor. Outside, working with the HDLC, we added a new exterior ramp that complements the building’s design and its recently updated courtyard.

NANO also prepared an alternate theater package for the school that will let them move forward with a complete revamp of the lighting and sound systems as soon as they have the resources. The new Frederick Douglass High School auditorium will help the New Orleans charter school system continue its mission to build students’ character and prepare them for the future of their choice.

Farnham Residence

Farnham Residence

Use: Residential
Location: Metairie, LA
Size:7,070 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

In this prestigious Metairie, Louisiana neighborhood, houses are inherited from generation to generation – but taste, style, and needs often aren’t. NANO transformed the client’s large childhood home with a flexible design tailored to her small family, but still able to comfortably houseall their relatives for holidays, vacations, and Saints games. Inspired by the late family matriarch’s passion for the fine arts, we infused the home with color, craftsmanship, and a creative expression of its history.

The Farnham residence was originally built in the 1940s, with a warren of small dark rooms at its core. We reconfigured the plan to create more generous light-filled spaces, including a rejuvenated foyer, expanded dine-in kitchen, and updated master suite with a walk-in closet, spa-like bath, and vaulted ceiling. The large open spaces support the clients’ current lifestyle, but can be easily adapted to accommodate future changes and frequent family gatherings. New pocket doors and added bathrooms throughout the home unobtrusively provide comfort and privacy for overnight guests. And as the owners mature, we ensured their house will follow, adding space for a future elevator and other features designed to make this a true forever home.

To more authentically express the family home’s architectural history alongside the new owners’ eclectic tastes, we updated a previous addition with black-framed windows and a large glass bi-folding door that distinguishes it from the original structure. Restored and repainted shutters and a black lacquer front door artfully tie everything together. A new outdoor living space further enriches the home’s character with a distinctly contemporary sensibility that carries through to the interior. Spanning myriad styles and influences, the home’s spaces are defined by unexpectedly bold colors, modern textiles, new works of art, and paintings from the family’s collection.

A sense of history, artistry, and craftsmanship carries through to every detail of the house. In the foyer, a custom wrought-iron stair rail features ornamental rosettes inspired by a decorative motif on the garden gate. A brilliant custom carpet, rich wood paneling, and a striking three-story chandelier complete the space’s transformation. The kitchen is designed around a custom T-shaped marble island with a four-inch-thick waterfall edge and brass panels, while the former teak counter has been repurposed in the new mudroom. Signature lighting pieces and a thoughtful mix of heirloom, vintage, and custom furnishings give every space a unique charm.

NANO worked closely with the clients to create a home tailored to their needs and their style, balancing understated, traditional design with bold, modern choices. Times and taste may have changed, but this Farnham Place residence is still the family house – and it always will be.

2401 Bienville

2401 Bienville

Use: Commercial/Offices
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 12,600SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

In our first project as developer and architect, NANO restored and reimagined a historic New Orleans church as a performance-based mixed-use complex designed to make a positive impact on the community. Located on a prominent corner lot in a Mid-City neighborhood that lost many residents after Hurricane Katrina, the former home of the Central Congregational United Church of Christ is the new home to NANO. But more importantly, it’s a new home for other small businesses, public amenities, and flood mitigation measures that will ensure the neighborhood weathers future storms and bounces back stronger than ever.  

Initially built in 1944, the church at 2401 Bienville Street was designed by Ferdinand Lucien Rousseve, the first black architect licensed in Louisiana. It played a significant role in the community, hosting prominent African American leaders such as Walter Young and Lester Blackwell Grange, and housing one of the country’s first African American childcare centers in the rear sanctuary building. NANO’s rejuvenation of 2401 Bienville draws on our knowledge of local zoning policy, preservation guidelines, and city demographics to honor this rich history by preserving the adjoined buildings’ architectural character and continuing their tradition of community service.  

We made minimal changes to the church structure, restoring and reinforcing the original brick facade as needed, and inserting new double-glazed windows to improve energy efficiency and create a more attractive street presence. Inside, we restored the trusses in the main sanctuary, which provides a memorable space for a community-supporting anchor tenant, and slightly expanded the second-floor choir to be NANO’s new home. Celebrating both the past and the future, the new space better serves our growing staff and reflects who we are as a company.  

NANO also updated the former Hume building with a new entry, new windows, and new storefront–all designed to complement the original architecture–and new plumbing to ensure the flexible spaces can host a diverse range of tenants. The central courtyard and parking area have been strengthened new stormwater management systems, including permeable pavers, large planters, and catch basins to make the neighborhood more resilient. And extensive new outdoor lighting throughout the complex will help make it safer. The updated building meets both WELL certification standards and the energy targets established by the AIA 2030 challenge. 

We developed 2401 Bienville –because we love and believe in this neighborhood. We designed the building with great care to be a cultural hub that makes our community more environmentally and economically resilient. 

New Orleans Fire Department Multi-Stations

New Orleans Fire Department Multi-Stations

Use: Municipal
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: Various
Category: Architecture

Hurricane Katrina severely damaged fire stations across New Orleans. Before substantial repairs could be made in the wake of the storm, FEMA had to survey every affected station in the city, complete a comprehensive damage report, and prepare an estimate for repairs. The City of New Orleans asked NANO to conduct a parallel survey confirming FEMA’s findings and oversee the needed updates to 12 of the city’s most essential stations. 

The work required exhaustive documentation and thorough organization. Leveraging our extensive expertise with historic structures and New Orleans building codes, we completed our independent audit. We worked closely with national and local agencies to get the city full and fair compensation for the repairs and equip the first responders with the resources they needed. Every station had different problems, requiring a meticulous review of each building, looking beyond the obvious flood damage compounded by the passing of time to understand the damage to the buildings’ structural and mechanical systems. Further complicating things, ersatz repairs were completed in many locations to get the stations operational and protect the city while FEMA completed their surveys.

In addition to auditing FEMA’s findings and preparing the necessary drawings, NANO also developed several alternate schemes and additional improvements the city could follow up on as resources become available. We then figured out the most efficient way to permit the work and phase the restorations. Because the stations had to close while renovations were completed, we identified a sequence of work that allowed us to make the needed updates to stations across the city while ensuring that every community continued to be protected.

This undertaking, along with NANO’s work restoring the New Orleans Fire Department Headquarters,has played a vital role in restoring the city’s essential services. We feel privileged to help protect the men and women who have pledged to protect us.

Octavia Books & Toast


Use: Restaurant, Retail
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 4,422 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

To help a beloved local bookstore and neighborhood bakery better serve their community, NANO renovated and rehabilitated the 100-year-old structure they share. Building on the bookstore’s established design language, we expanded both businesses with a dynamic and flexible design that provides more space for holding public events, displaying books, and enjoying a cup of coffee or meal with friends.

The client initially requested separate expansions for each business, but we quickly realized the potential in uniting them. Octavia Books and Toast share many customers, and it felt natural for them to share space as well. Our solution is inspired by Octavia’s bold original design, which remains almost entirely intact. From its recessed entry to the layout of its bookshelves, the store used angles to define cozy, inviting spaces. We refined and formalized that intuitive design language to continue those angles throughout the building’s entire lower floor. As a result, the expansion feels like a natural progression of the bookstore space – distinctive but clearly connected to the original.

The space weaves around four structural cores that house essential building systems, storage, and offices. Between the bookstore and cafe, pivoting shelves can be easily opened or closed to separate the stores as needed. In addition to adding new shelving and displays, we created a variety of informal seating and expanded the area for children’s books–a specialty of Octavia’s and a rapidly growing market. Near the center of the store, a small stage gives the store much-needed space to host readings, signings, and the many events that have made Octavia Books an anchor in the literary community of New Orleans.

Wherever possible, the original masonry walls and wood ceiling remain exposed. We carefully designed all interventions to be built–and removed, if necessary–without damaging the original structure. A new acoustic wood ceiling, suspended from the original joists, highlights the circulation through the space. Inspired by traditional bookbinding techniques, its vertical wood fins stitch together the old spaces and new, folding to articulate special areas or points of interest. Octavia’s signature shade of blue is used as an accent color throughout, complementing the rich, warm tone of the wood ceiling and bookcases, which are framed by custom millwork and integrated lighting.

Separately–and now together–Octavia Books and Toast create a sense of community in uptown New Orleans. The dynamic and joyful expansion celebrates the power of place and the sense of fulfillment we gain through reading, eating, and connecting with one another.

New Orleans Fire Department Headquarters & Training Academy


Use: Municipal/Commercial
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 18,500 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

When The New Orleans Fire Department closed its headquarters in 2011 due to hurricane and environmental issues, staff and resources were scattered across the city. To centralize this invaluable public service, NANO is transforming an old department training facility into a versatile headquarters and resilient storm shelter. When completed, the updated building’s flexible spaces and durable design will ensure that when disaster hits, the City’s first responders are ready.

The existing facility is a Post-Modern idiosyncratic 18,500-square-foot brick and plaster structure with a gabled roof and symbolic hose tower. Working in close collaboration with the fire chief, NANO redesigned the building for 24-hour operation. We updated the interior to work efficiently and accommodate the complex program needed for an emergency building, creating spaces for offices and administration areas, medical and training facilities, and a fully equipped dormitory.

A new 1,500-square-foot addition reflects the massing and geometry of the existing building. Clad in durable metal panels and louvers, the second-story addition bridges the main building and an adjacent auditorium to create a distinctive gateway that marks the facility’s entry and gives it a more modern sensibility. We reinforced this feeling by replacing all existing glazing with impact-resistant, black-framed windows and updating the façade with more contemporary exterior finishes.

Not only do the improvements enhance the building’s aesthetic,but they also make it safer. We upgraded the building to a Type II-B, Risk Category IV compliant structure. In addition to site remediation, water-proofing, and impact-resistant glazing, we designed a secure space for a large generator, an access control system fully integrated into the security monitoring system, and resilient flood mitigation and stormwater management solutions. 

Navigating the city’s institutions can be a challenge, but we’re proud to support the NOFD and get them back under one roof. This project strengthens the entire city by consolidating resources, improving communication and preparedness, and creating a greater sense of community among New Orleans firefighters.