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.



THE BUILT EXPERIENCE

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

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.

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

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

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.

1308 Moss Street 

1308 Moss Street

Use: Residential
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size:4,184 SF
Category: Architecture, Historical, In-Process, Interiors, Residential

NANO has a profound respect for the vernacular architecture and culture of New Orleans, and this reverence is exhibited through the thoughtful measures we have taken while renovating 1308 Moss Street, a 100-year-old tear down in the historic Bayou St. John community. 
 
Our client’s primary residence, immediately adjacent to 1308 Moss, is the nationally renowned Spanish Custom House located in the Library of Congress’ National Register of Historic Buildings. The more modest home at 1308 Moss was originally built on the same property, likely serving as caretaker’s quarters. When the client hired NANO, the structure was in dire need of repair; we were tasked to preserve what we could, while salvaging and constructing a safe haven for the Client’s mother to age in place. The challenge of this full renovation was to improve the home’s accessibility and resilience while protecting the architectural integrity of the Bayou St. John neighborhood as set forth by the Historic District Landmarks Commission.
 
Our solution involved a three-stage preservation plan: first, the demolition of non-historic additions that had accrued over time; second, the careful shoring of the home’s significant historical elements; and finally, the physical raising of the house. By elevating the historic structure, we created a utility space and garage on the ground level while giving the water-side building an extra layer of flood protection. In addition to expanding and updating the home to meet current codes, NANO further transformed the residence by aligning floor plates, using reductive measures of incorporating the architectural features of the neighborhood, including flat arches, using minimal detailing, adding a Sack-finish brick facade and baseless columns, custom railings, gas lanterns, and custom-made carriage doors.
 
Inside, the spacious floor plan is open and accessible, with the incorporation of an elevator. NANO reused the original front door, with its charming sidelights and transom, as a garden entry, and repurposed wood elements from the original structure wherever possible. Large French doors open onto a generous balcony with views out over the bayou, echoing the front façade of the Spanish Custom House. Our modern take on a classic yet enduring design bolsters the fabric of the community, reunifies a historic property, and brings a family closer together.

Caffin Avenue Tiny Homes

Caffin Avenue Tiny Homes

Use: Residential
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: Various
Category: Architecture, Interiors, In-Process, Residential

NANO makes a conscious effort to always keep space in our workload schedule for pro-bono projects where we can invest time that will have the most impact free of charge. NANO was contacted by Louvis Services, a local non-profit organization in New Orleans whose vision is to provide safe, affordable tiny home duplexes for the homeless community in New Orleans.

NANO welcomed the opportunity to join the partnership with Louvis Services by providing pro-bono architectural design assistance including design and construction drawings, permitting services, and construction administration utilizing sustainability strategies.

The duplex units are designed to incorporate sustainable and local building materials, energy efficient appliances, and an edible landscape program in which tenants can actively participate. Each unit is ADA-compliant to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. The result of these efforts will be to uphold the mission of Louvis Services: to spark hope, encourage innovation and aid in developing financial stability and emotional well-being for our New Orleans homeless community.